Our Reading Lives

Three Perfect Book Gifts From Christmases Past

Our Reading Lives features stories about how books and reading have shaped who we are and how we live.

book-gift-wrap1Welcome back from the holidays, Book Riot peeps.Hope you had a lovely one, and I suspect there were a few books under many of your trees (for those who celebrate) this year. Books, as we know, make great gifts. In fact, now that I am pretty devoted to ebooks for much of my reading, the bookish artifact mostly enters my life through gifts. This is something I am entirely comfortable with, by the way. I would be happy if the only books left on my shelves were meaningful gifts of love, and everything else lived in the cloud.

So we probably don’t all agree about that, but I’m sure we all agree that giving and receiving books is an act of trust, or companionship, and of love. Here are three that have meant quite a lot to me.

1. CONCISE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY. From Santa (whose handwriting looks suspiciously like my dad’s), Christmas 1994. This was in my stocking the Christmas I was eleven. I remember that my brother and I got matching paperback Oxfords. I think I was confused at first — why, this isn’t candy at all! — but I do know I spent most of Christmas Day looking up swear words.

This dictionary is still with me. It went with me to grad school and sits on my desk in my office. I take it to class when I teach close reading and reference it probably every single day. And the inscription always makes me smile. I think my parents knew I was going to build a life in words long before I did.

2. SHAMPOO PLANET by Douglas Coupland. From my husband (though he wasn’t then) on my 18th birthday, 2001. My friends and I were stupendously nerdy and really bookish. As a group we all read A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS and gushed over Eggers at length. We were into all those young male writers of the millennial cusp, but we were really into Douglas Coupland (one New Year’s we threw a flat food party — read MICROSERFS to get that reference).

My now-husband was part of our nerdy friendship enclave. He and I went on our first date in February of 2001, and my birthday followed in April. He gave me a signed, first edition of SHAMPOO PLANET and our first kiss on the same night — a pretty perfect 18th birthday after a gathering at my best friend’s house. I remember feeling like I had the whole world at my feet that night, and looking at that book makes me feel it all all over again.

3. INFINITE JEST by David Foster Wallace. From a student, Fall 2012. At the end of last term, a student who had been a real pleasure to teach over a couple of literature classes gave me a copy of his favourite book, INFINITE JEST, with a really lovely inscription.

I have been given books by students before (most notably when I was TA-ing and a student came to see me after grades had been submitted; he stammered, “This made me think of you!” and thrust a copy of SCAR TISSUE by Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in my lap, a gift that seven years later I still have not fully processed). But this one was particularly meaningful. Working at a two-year college means I don’t always get to know where my students go, and they are easy to lose track of over time. This connection, through literature, to a student I really enjoyed teaching is a valuable reminder of why I have the job I do and what it can mean.

These are some gifts of books that have meant the world to me. I’d love to hear yours too, if you’d like to share them in the comments below.