The Right (and Wrong!) Way to Give Books as Gifts

I remember when I was a kid that the best Christmas presents were always either books or bookstore gift certificates – i.e. excuses to buy books. Most of the time, I’d get something that was age-appropriate and that I was eager to read anyway, but I also have been given books that languished on my shelf for years, unread, because they didn’t really fit into any genre I wanted to read. Often, they’d fit into a genre I had tried to read, but which I knew for sure I didn’t like.

As I grew up, I started experiencing the urge to gift books – friends who were going through a hard time, or who had a mind-blowing conversation with me and later came to mind when I read a book, or even just people I wanted to share my favorite books with. Some of my instincts were good, but others I think were misguided over the years.

I tend, now, to think that if you can answer “yes” to the following questions, it’s a great time to gift a book. If not, it’s worth reconsidering.

Will this book make the person feel understood, not judged? I include this question because it can be tempting to pass along books that we think will make people better in some way, and it rarely comes off right. People really have to choose their own self-improvement books, I think, and unless you two are both long-time confidants about the same tough issue, it can be hard not to be hurt by a book gift that just tells me that I’m not good enough.

Does this book fill a need that the receiver has expressed? One of the best “gifts” regarding books is doing the homework to find a hard-to-find combination of the reader’s favorite genres, or a book that has their favorite rare point of view, or some other research-heavy book purchase. If the book shows how well you know the recipient, then even if they never read it, you were showing that you cared about them the way they are, and with their specific mix of likes.

Do I personally cherish this book? This can be a hard one, because while I do believe in giving away my favorite books to others for them to enjoy, you have to do it without expecting that everyone will be impacted the same way, and without them having the same urgency about the book as you do. I have gotten to the point, though, where I casually gift my favorite books whenever they come up in a used bookstore and tell my friends, “call me when you get around to this book.” Even years later, it’s so lovely to get to gab about one of my favorites, even if I’m in a new place now and can see the book’s flaws just as well as my friend can.

Does the person realistically have time for another book? Probably near and dear to Rioters, the idea of already having too many books to read might mean that another kind of gift is better (tea, perhaps? To accompany the many books?). I love receiving books, but I haven’t read most of them because my work and school life over the past few years made so much reading mandatory that I didn’t really turn to books for pleasure as often. Now that the season of reading in my life has waned, I have time for books again, so I’m going to finally make a dent in the stack of gifts from the years of school.

Answering these questions with a resounding yes means that your book gift will probably be well received, but ultimately, you know your friends better than I do, so your careful consideration is the best way to decide whether a book gift is right in your context.

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