Anyway, I stumbled across this web site called Buy Books for the Holidays a few weeks ago, and I wanted to share it with you, as we'll all soon be struggling to claw ourselves out from the hellish pit more popularly known as the holiday shopping season. I think the concept of buying people books for the holidays is pretty cool, for two reasons: A) it will relieve me from the humdrum, mindless shopping fueled by THE CHRISTMAS LIST; and B) who doesn't like "lots of surprises"? Everyone's list should end with lots of surprises. The web site is really cool, giving new gift ideas every week, which are often organized by age group or trend. The site also features some great bookish charities, reminding us that giving, the biggest hallmark of the season, extends beyond the close circle of family and friends.
I think what I like most about this idea is that it actually forces you to really think about the person you're buying for. Books are very personal, very intimate items. It's very hard for one person to comprehend another's taste. I feel like even if the person you're buying for has been your best friend since you were three years old, you still have a pretty good chance of f*ing it up. That's why I always asked for gift cards to Borders or Barnes & Noble. Not even Santa Claus knew what I liked to read...and he knew it all.
I'll bet it's because books are our great escape. We read when we want to get away from the world we're in...or to draw us closer to a part we don't yet know much about. Even when we read a book for the familiarity of its topic we're escaping, in a sense, because we're withdrawing deeper into a part of ourselves. To make things more complicated, our fantasy destination is always changing. For instance: sometimes I'll be in the mood for a lighthearted YA novel, sometimes I'll be in the mood for symbolic literature, sometimes I'll be in the mood for girly chick lit...sometimes I'll just feel like learning something. And sometimes -- not often -- I'll even feel like reading nothing but the funnies. Hell, yesterday all I felt like doing was finishing a crossword puzzle. That's the kind of book I needed. That's the kind of escape I was craving.
So how do you buy books for someone, when your theories on what they will and will not enjoy have a 96.8% chance of blowing up in your astonished but good-intentioned face?
Here's how I plan to do it:
- Don't think too much. Let the ideas come naturally; let them spark in your mind. (I'm convincing myself this provision is necessary, despite how worrisome it makes me...the Dec. 25th deadline and all.)
- Take a lot of time to browse. Plan a day if you have to. You won't know what to buy if you don't know what's out there.
- Don't set limits, especially on things like "year published." Some of the best books I've ever read were at least 5 years off the presses. This does not mean throw all caution to the wind. For example, if you're going to buy a history book or a book about science, pay attention. Some genres will be best read if the information is up-to-date.
- Know what you like to read, but don't use your preferences as a defense for buying the same book for someone else. You and your friends or family may have similar interests when it comes to reading, but you may not enjoy the same authors. I feel that the holidays are not a time to be making recommendations, because I often get the impression that recommendations are just another way of saying, "Hey, I love this book. Everyone else should also love this book. Here, read this book, because I love it."
- Look through old journals or old photo albums, watch old videos. It may jog your memory and give you an idea by reminding you about the person you love...and what they love.
- Pay attention. Take a real interest in your conversations with the giftee and see if you can't transform it into a book. If your Secret Santa loves knitting, there's a sweet-looking murder mystery series out that has knitting as a central theme. Could be by Maggie Sefton? I can't remember. Anyway, get creative. Just because she likes knitting doesn't mean you have to buy her a how-to book.
But it's fun to get lost among books, isn't it?