The 5 Kinds of Gift Books

Any book person will tell you that they get a lot of gift books for special occasions. These come from family, especially older members, who are aware that you read but are slightly afraid to find out what you read. It could be weird. They don’t want to think of you as a shark-made-of-language-eats-your-memory kind of person. However, they also know that you won’t be unhappy with a book, and it’s such an easy get that they can’t resist. Here are the five primary categories of gift books you can expect under these circumstances.

The Default

It was a BEST SELLER! Sure, it’s not about anything you care about, and in fact you find the premise mildly offensive. But everyone’s reading it! According to The New York Times, at least. Barnes and Noble put it on the big bay in front with the cover facing out, so this hapless gifter has decided that it must be an objectively excellent piece of work.

This is what industry professionals call a “good try.” It comes from a sincere place and often from a non-reader. How are they supposed to know that the author is an appalling transphobe or that the book is a notoriously overinflated bore? This individual will read a few pages of a snoozy, self-satisfied wankfest of a “literary” novel and assume that it’s just too sophisticated for their paltry non-readerly understanding.

This type of gift is often a compliment. The giver thinks you’re smart and wants to give you something they know other smart people like. Accept graciously, and if the piece of literature is not to your taste, use for crafts or donate.

assorted book lot
Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

The Professional

They know you’re a reader, but also can’t grasp the concept that anyone would do anything for fun. Life is for work. Work hard and do nothing fun for free. Everything, including your books, must make you more productive and focused. Clearly, you want a book about your job.

This may seem like a backhanded compliment, and if you receive said book from your boss with a meaningful look, it may be. Yes, you’re a reader, but you also need to read this customer service workbook because you’re also lousy at what you do for a living. However, most gift books of this type come from true workaholic cultism. Whoever gave it to you is probably wedded very much to their job and assumes that you are, too.

There may be something that you can learn from this gift, and in the case of a professional tell-all like Heads In Beds, you might even enjoy commiserating with an author who knows the nonsense you put up with day by day. However, don’t be afraid to re-gift this to a coworker or passively leave it in the break room at your job. The gifter sees it as a tool on your eternal quest for capitalist excellence, nothing more.

The Evangelist

Do people have the tendency to jump on you? Does your group have more cavities than theirs? Never fear: your aunt is here and she just finished The Secret. Now she has a copy for you and everyone else in your family. In your case, she assures you in a low voice, it’s really going to make a difference.

This is the most awkward type of gift book that you may receive for two reasons. First, the giver has identified things about your life that they think are sub-par and they want you to fix them. Second, the giver will want a follow-up with full report and visible life transformations to accompany. If you’re anything less than completely converted by the message, they will consider the gift a failure. Thus, the gift is not really for you, but for them. Furthermore, if you fake a positive attitude about their piece of literary junk, they WILL give you more of the same.

There is no way to win in this situation. The best outcome for you is to crush them instantly and without mercy. Here are some possible responses:

  • “Oh thank you! Here, please take one of mine about atheism.”
  • “I’ve heard some interesting things about this book. Did you know that the author went bankrupt following their own financial advice?”
  • “Oh, I’ve read this already. Not my cup of kombucha.”
  • “Thanks, but I don’t need another book.”

The Aesthete

Your whole librarian chic style is just precious and they are here for it. That’s why they got you, an avid reader of vintage science fiction pulps, the visually pleasing coffee table book Nasty Galaxy. It has an astronaut on the cover!

The aesthete is trying to help you decorate, not read. Unfortunately, cute bookshelves are hundreds of dollars apiece and they’re not aware of Book Riot’s Book Fetish feature. Therefore, they got you just the prettiest book they could find, matching it carefully with your interests and assuming that you will place it gracefully on the coffee table that is actually overflowing with James Tiptree and Samuel Delaney vintage paperbacks.

Accept this book with grace. It took some care to pick it out and the person who is giving it to you will look for it when they visit because its purpose is to be seen. You are stuck with this book. Despite the fact that its purpose is literally to entertain your guests if you yourself are inadequately stimulating, having a few of these books around can be nice for big parties where you can’t talk to everyone at once. If nothing else, they really do keep up your apartment’s booky theme.

The Sincere

Once in a wonderful while, you’ll get a book from a family member who is also a bibliophile. Cherish these moments. Accept the book, read it, and discuss it with them. Encourage this giving behavior. Most of all, follow up with a gift book of your own. A giver like that deserves some extra care and attention.


Avoid gift books by getting other stuff for readers! Here are a bunch of last-minute bookish gifts as well as some cheap but awesome reader presents.