10 Rules for Giving Book Gifts

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The holiday gift-giving season approacheth (or is already here, for those of you who Black Friday). Time to make your list and check it twice, and I’m assuming you’ll be matching everyone on it with an appropriately bookish gift. Giving literary gifts can be tough, especially when you’re dealing with people who aren’t necessarily as into reading as you are. Here are a few ground rules to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t be an evangelist.  Your friends and family know you love reading, they know you loved [insert title you’ve been raving about all year]. Don’t use the holidays as an excuse to evangelize for the title and give it to everyone you know, regardless of whether they’re interested in it or not. That’s the literary equivalent of leaving a Bible tract instead of a tip. Don’t be that guy.
  2. Spy on them (digital edition).  Dive into their Goodreads or LibraryThing account. Most users have a TBR set up on their bookish social media profiles–it’s a built-in shopping list for you! Bookish Instagram users tend to post pics of their current reads, which will give you an idea of the person’s taste.
  3. Spy on them (physical edition). Creep your friends’ bookshelves. Do they have every book by one author, minus one? Get them that one. Do they have multiple editions of a certain title? They’re probably collecting them–get them a nice new edition.
  4. Explain yourself. When you’re gifting books (especially to non-readers), explain why you picked that title. I like to write a quick note on a bookmark or Christmas card and insert it into the book before I wrap it. Some people write an inscription. For example, if you’re giving your nerdy science-loving brother The Martian (good pick), write something short about how the book will scratch his NASA itch and penchant for bad puns and saying the f-word. It just lets people know you really considered their interests before picking the book.
  5. Ask the perfect question. An old tip from my bookseller days: ask the person you’re shopping for what the last book they read that they loved was. Work it into a conversation that doesn’t have to do with gift-giving, obviously. The answer will show you what genre or tone or style of book the person likes, and you can take it from there.
  6. Ask the next most perfect question. If the person isn’t a reader, ask them what the last movie they loved was. Was it a Marvel superhero flick? Get them a trade of one of the comics or the Marvel Avengers Encyclopedia. A Wes Anderson project? Stick with literary fiction. You get the idea.
  7. Don’t limit yourself to books. There are so many options for bookISH gifts that aren’t actually books. Bookish t-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, totes. Check Etsy (or our own Book Riot Store) for ideas.
  8. Stay away from gifting a whole series. It might be tempting to give your best friend all the extant volumes of Game of Thrones so you two can finally talk about what happens to Sansa, but what you’re really gifting is a lot of pressure. Several thousand pages of pressure. Don’t put your friends and family in a position where you’ve spent a lot of money and they have to then spend several weeks doing something they might not be interested in so they don’t hurt your feelings.
  9. Ask an indie bookseller. If you’re lucky enough to have a local indie, head over and grill the staff. They LIVE for this. Have a great-uncle obsessed with the Civil War and CSI:Miami and you want to gift him a book but don’t know where to even start? That’s a puzzle for a bookseller, my friend, and they always come through.
  10. Get tangential. This is especially handy for non-readers. Find out what they’re into (bird watching, basket weaving, World War II history, pop culture, whatever) and get a book tangentially related to that topic. A novel of WWII for the history buff (Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky is a great choice–the author died in Auschwitz so there’s a lot to parse). H is for Hawk, a memoir of hawking as a method of grief recovery, for the animal lover.

What are your rules for bookish gift giving?

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