Well can you believe it, folks, it’s December already. And with Black Friday and Cyber Monday and One Last Chance at Free Shipping Tuesday, it’s already Why Haven’t You Done All Your Shopping By Now Wednesday. So before it’s too late (I’m Already Sick of Hearing About Gifts and It’s Only Thursday), let’s go shopping! (Yay!) For books! (Grumble, grumble…)
Who dares grumble? What’s the problem? Oh, you don’t think book shopping can be fun? You don’t think there’s anything to it. You think, Eh, I’ll get Marcy the new Gladwell book, and for Dad I’ll get some McCullough tombstone (yikes—no McCullough, well maybe he won’t notice that the Doctorow is actually fiction), and for Alex college it’ll be The Razor’s Edge. Click click click on Amazon, qualify free shipping, pay for giftwrapping, credit card’s already on file, pause to yawn, click to pay, give the old pajamaed ass a nice little scratch, and back to the DVR. Like hell you will!
And why not? Because gift-giving should be personal. It’s our connection to the gift, to the act of giving, that lends the gesture grace. Pay your bills online, but choose a gift for your loved one by hand. To that end, here are twelve tips to make your book-gift buying experience a little more rewarding.
One: Keep It Indie, Cindy. Stay out of the chains (B&N, Borders, Waldenbooks if you still live in 1986) and big box stores. And that includes Amazon. Sure, some books might be cheaper there, but a) you don’t want to buy a bestseller as a gift, so what you’re looking for probably won’t be discounted, and b) those chains are killing not only the indie stores, but doing irrevocable damage to many small publishing houses. As William Blake wrote, “Better to strangle an author at a typewriter than purchase a hardcover from Costco.” If I see you in one of those stores, I’m gonna slip a book in your bag and point you out to a guard for shoplifting.
Two: Take a Chance, Lance. It doesn’t take much faith to buy your pal the new Safran Foer food book. Your friend already knows about it, and probably already bought it if she wanted to read it. Find something that wasn’t all over NPR for six weeks. At least not during the last year.
Three: Don’t Be a Robot, Albert. Even if you have certain books that you always like to give as gifts or new books that you know would make good presents, don’t go and buy those immediately. There’s a lot of books out there; you can always circle back to How Proust Can Save Your Life if all else fails. Robot. Albert. I dunno. Maybe I should’ve gone with Talbot.
Four: Consider Buying Something Used, Suze. If you don’t often frequent used stores, you should. Not only are the prices much more reasonable, but you’re likely to find something rare and beautiful if you give it a little time. Last year I found handsome, old hardcovers of Leaves of Grass, The Complete Poems of Robert Frost, and even the two-volume set of the complete OED, each for $10 or less.
Five: Try Poetry or Short Stories, Maurice. It can be a lot to ask of the recipient to trust you enough to take on a whole novel or nonfiction book. With collections of shorter fiction, the receiver’s more likely to be receptive and at least crack the spine.
Six: Enough Caffeine, Colleen. Really, who needs another coffee-table book? Generally they’re good for about a week, and then they just take up space. (That’s why they’re coffee table books: they have no shelflife.) Of course, there are exceptions. But the only way they make sense is if bought on remainder, and then you just bought a book for its beauty and it’s got a big Sharpie slash across the pages. And let me tell you from experience, those slashes are very difficult to clean up with White-Out.
Seven: Inscribe It, Britt. Don’t let that cheapskate friend return your gift and buy someone else a gift with your cash, or, worse, regift the book without lifting a finger. Or, to be more optimistic: wouldn’t it be nice if, as the recipient was appreciating the book many years from now, she was reminded that it was you who was so thoughtful a giver?
Eight: Make Sure It’s Something You’ve Read, Fred. This tip should probably be nearer the top. To give a book is to recommend it. You wouldn’t send a friend to a film you haven’t seen, and that’s only a two-hour commitment. At least if your friend doesn’t like the book, you’ll be able to defend your choice.
Nine: Leave a Tip, Pip. If you have the bookseller wrap your book, leave a tip. You tip a bartender for opening a bottle, and there aren’t even scissors involved.
Ten: Don’t Get Greedy, Didi. If you’re like me, you will inevitably covet the gifts you buy before you even give them. Center yourself and remember that is better to give than to—ah, who am I kidding. Just buy more books than you have friends and skim the best off the top.
Eleven: Try Something for Free, Brie. Low on cash? Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org) has over 30,000 free titles available for download. Download, say, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and tinker with the font and such. Then print it out (probably best to do at work, once the boss is gone—gee, she just has no appreciation for fine literature!), trim and bind the pages (where’s that big stapler?) and personalize with illustrations of Huck and Jim making camp in the tall grass. But if you really care, construct a pop-up.
Twelve: Forget Everything I Said, Ted. Go out and buy Going Rogue (well, don’t forget everything I said: at least buy it from an independent store). Take it home and carve out the inside—the old priest’s flask in the bible routine—and insert a book that your dear friend might appreciate a little more.
Okay, I feel bad. You’ve read this far and all you really wanted was a shortcut, a list of never-fail gift books that aren’t The Little Prince, Into Thin Air, or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Beyond the three I mentioned early that I purchased used, here are ten tried-and-true gift books I can suggest: anything by Glen Baxter, Extinct Birds by Errol Fuller; The Angry Clam by Erik Quisling and, A Humument by Tom Phillips, View with a Grain of Sand by Wislawar Szymborska, Etiquette by Emily Post, Zeroville by Steve Erickson, The Clown by Heinrich Boll, Beneath the Underdog by Charles Mingus, and The Voice of the City by O.Henry.