by Erin Mitchell
Many Americans are out among the zombie hordes of shoppers today, and as we become consumed with what to get for whom, I’m sure some—if not all—of you are going to be giving people books.
My confession: I’ve always found it difficult to gift books. Reading is a supremely personal experience, and as such, giving someone a book is a bit like giving them underwear. Especially for people you don’t know super-well…you have an idea of what you think might be comfortable for them to read, but what if you’re wrong? What if under that calm, cool, and collected exterior beats the heart of a warrior queen?
What if you’re gifting soft cotton when what she or he really wants is lace?
It’s a risk. But sure, aren’t all the best things in life at least a little risky?
Rather than give you a list of books I’d recommend as gifts this year, I went to the Facebook hive mind and asked: What's the best book gift you ever received?
Mine would be a tie between the atlas my dad gave me when I was about 6 and the encyclopedia of cats that Santa brought one year
The answers I received comprise a list that will definitely get you thinking! Here it is:
- Kurt Vonnegut box set...no doubt.
- A copy of A Firing Offense - still thanking my friend for that one.
- The Joy of Cooking from the mid-70s.
- Dorothy Parker collected poems....an old edition, small hardback my husband found in a used bookstore.
- The Thirteen Clocks, from a very kind boyfriend of my mom's for my tenth birthday. Still love it.
- The Collected Poetry of Dorothy Parker (1936 Modern Library) and a signed Louise Penny.
- The Complete New Yorker Cartoons.
- As a thank you gift, a friend gave me a rare copy of Sue Grafton's Kinsey and Me. This was before it was widely published, one of the limited editions. It's one of my most treasured things.
- The People's Almanac Vol. I by Irving Wallace and his son David Wallechinsky. I was in high school and the 1200 or so pages of arcane trivia enthralled me.
- The limited illustrated, boxed edition of THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, with my name embossed on it. It was a wrap gift for the RTE documentary "Of Blood and Lost Things."
- The box set complete Calvin & Hobbes--every cartoon ever plus a long biography on Watterson.
- An 1878 edition of the Works of William Shakespeare, Macmillan and Co, London; from a friend as a wedding gift in 1976.
- The first four Harry Potter books were the gift I asked for from my husband for my birthday. He was baffled, but he got them for me. Turns out, he read them and the rest as they came out. It was the BEST gift for both of us.
- Was just recently gifted a two hardback set of graphic novels based on The Ring Cycle operas. LOVE IT.
- Tommy searched every used book store until he bought me the whole Ed McBain 87th precinct series. Best gift ever.
- A signed first edition of James Crumley's "Dancing Bear" given to me by Steven Hertzog.
- About ten years ago, a young man, who had graduated from high school with my daughter, worked at the grocery store where I shopped while he was going to college. He was an English major and a reader, so we would talk books whenever I saw him at the grocery. During one conversation, he learned that I hadn't read Catch-22. Well, he had great affection for that book, and showed up at my door a few days later with a newly bought copy for me. I was very touched that he wanted to share it with me that much.
- Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, when I was 6 I remember my dad reading it while I played with a Steiff bear on the rug.
- My Dad bought me a first edition of Carrie by Stephen King when I was 11, and the latest King has been a Christmas present ever since.
- A first printing of Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins.
- My parents bought me the Nancy Drew books. Big deal then, buying kids hardback books.
- Why Do Men Have Nipples.......it’s hysterical, my mom of all people bought for me to get me laughing. Lots of interesting facts in it that are really funny.
- When my birthmother and I first started talking, the first thing we had in common was books. And when she learned I had never read Chris Bohjalian, she gave me a signed copy of Midwives.
- Little Women when I was 12 was my first favorite. My second was The Pain and The Promise, the story of the civil rights movement in Tallahassee, written by a dear friend who mentioned me in the acknowledgements.
- Kate Douglas Wiggin: The Little School Teacher (part of that orange series), inscribed by my mom on my 8th birthday. It's on a shelf nearby.
- Grimm's Fairy Tales in the late 40's, I was probably 8, by my paternal grandmother...a reader...My maternal grandfather not to be outdone handed me his set of Myths and Legends ...the timing and gifting I treasure...
- I love getting books that I never would have bought for myself, like I have a huge book full of poetry having to do with London and a tiny book filled with poetry about New York City. I would never have gotten them for myself. I also have an interest in vaudeville and a friend gave me Donald Crisp's personal copy (signed to him) of a vaudeville biography. If you don't know who Donald Crisp is, he was in every wonderful movie made at MGM in the 40s (possible slight exaggeration!). I love getting books.
- My favorite gifted book was "Underwear from around the World and Through the Ages"
- A boyfriend in college gave me the Complete Works of Emily Dickinson. It was an incredibly thoughtful gift.
- I honestly don't have a good enough memory to pin this down, but I'm guessing as a kid it would have been one of the many dog/horse books I coveted. As an adult, I was gifted a second edition To Kill a Mockingbird that's pretty nifty.
- I always went to the library as a child so I didn't own a lot of books, but I was given a beautifully illustrated (by Sergio Rizzato) copy of Pinocchio for my seventh birthday by my parents that I still have.
- Captain Underpants.
So there you have it. I betcha have some ideas for gift books now, right?