By the book
SENSES WORKING OVERTIME - Luis Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2014 - 12:00am

Here’s what you need to know when gifting someone with the written word.

 

Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world. Neil Gaiman

 

 

 

Who am I to disagree with Neil Gaiman? I would just add that yes, books make great gifts, as long as they are chosen with much thought and care. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you are planning to make some reader very happy this season:

IS IT SOMETHING THEY DON’T HAVE YET?

Unlike food and clothing and hugs and kisses, having more than one of the same thing does not significantly prolong utility or pleasure, in the case of books. (Unless we’re talking about a beautifully illustrated and/or redesigned reissue or a rare first edition of said book.) Which is why books like The Catcher in the Rye or The Great Gatsby or Little Women or pretty much anything that you might have been assigned to read in school might be a bad idea, great as they are otherwise. And your intended recipient may indeed love Tolkien or Rinbow Rowell, but what are the chances that he or she has not completed their collection yet?

Better to get something from an earlier decade, as opposed to recently-issued tomes that are readily available (and perhaps even arrayed on the Top 10 rack). Exceptions are the big, coffeetable-type, usually hardcover books that some people want very badly but are hesitant to blow too much money on, like The Wes Anderson Collection or Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities or pretty much anything from Taschen.

In general, go for books that might be a little harder to find, but fit your friend or relative’s interests perfectly. Do they love Harry Potter? Maybe they should give Ursula K. Le Guin’s excellent A Wizard of Earthsea a try. Do they have a wry, cynical, yet secretly soft-hearted sense of humor? Give them a Kurt Vonnegut novel, but not the most famous ones (Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions); try Bluebeard (if they like reading about art) or Mother Night (if they like reading about Nazis). Are they a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fanatic? They’ll love Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley (good luck finding it, though). Did they ever once mention daydreaming of running away to live in a museum? Get them E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, assuming it’s not their favorite book already (it used to be available everywhere, but has become increasingly difficult to find in local bookstores, for some reason).

IS IT SOMETHING THAT WILL CONNECT WITH THEIR LIFE?

Think about the person to whom you want to give this book. Think about their age, their ambitions, their aspirations. I’ve had the pleasure, more than once, of giving a young aspiring writer a copy of Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons: from that collection of short pieces, one can learn a great deal about crafting masterful and deeply affecting fiction and nonfiction. Budding filmmakers might harbor more appreciation for the previously mentioned volumes on Anderson and Del Toro (or perhaps a copy of Future Noir, if they worship the masterpiece that is Blade Runner). People who are still learning to find their own musical tastes would benefit from a book like 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, which is generally well-written and curated (though of course I could quibble with some inclusions and exclusions), and can act as a sort of (ahem) download guide.

Really, the only reason you need to choose a book to give is that it’s a good book. But if it connects with what the recipient is trying to do with his or her life, or appeals to some deep, barely acknowledged quirk of their psyche, then so much the better. You don’t connect with every book; some authors or sometimes entire genres can leave you cold. A short story writer myself, I’ve read tons of short story collections halfway through and then dropped them because I found myself not connecting and not caring. And then I find something like St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell and all of a sudden, the form, and the world, seems full of possibilities again.

IS IT SOMETHING THAT MEANS SOMETHING TO YOU?

This part is optional, but it can be important as well. It’s no coincidence that the titles I’ve mentioned all happen to be books I’ve treasured as well. How else can you attest to the quality — and possibilty of connection — inherent in a book if you’ve never read and loved it yourself? It can be profoundly silly like Woody Allen’s Without Feathers, or as mind-teasing as Alan Lightman’s Einsteins’s Dreams, but the fact is that if it is one of your favorites, it stands a great chance of being one of your giftee’s favorites too. Added bonus: the two of you can talk about it afterwards, which can be a pleasure perhaps only second to the actual reading itself.

 

A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA ALAN LIGHTMAN ALBUMS YOU MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE ANDERSON AND DEL TORO BLADE RUNNER BOOK BOOKS CABINET OF CURIOSITIES NEIL GAIMAN
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