Holiday season is upon us, and with it the season of receiving gifts from people who don’t actually know us very well. It’s happened to us all. Someone—maybe a distant relative or a coworker in a Secret Santa exchange—has to get you a gift, and all they know about you is you like to read. They arrive to the gift-giving event with a rectangular package bearing your name, and it’s anyone’s guess what’s inside. Yes, there’s always a chance that the person is insightful enough (or lucky enough) to have picked up something that suits your reading tastes, but more often than not you’ve been gifted a book you don’t want.
You may panic as you place your hand on the wrapping paper, ready to tear. You realize this person knows nothing of what you like to read. Maybe you hate family sagas and they’ve gotten you a copy of The Corrections. Maybe you’re on a sci-fi kick and they’ve gifted you a self-help. Maybe it’s just a book you’ve tried and failed to connect with.
So, what do you do? Well…
You can’t betray your emotions to the person who has gifted you this book. No matter the intensity of the fear and frustration coursing through you at the moment you receive this almost certainly horrible book match, you have to remember that they had every good intention in the world when they picked up this mismatching tome. Although there’s a saying about where the roads paved with good intentions lead, there’s nothing particularly hellish about a book, even a book you don’t want to read.
The word “interesting” might be the most insulting adjective in the English language. Don’t use it. It will immediately signal to anyone with an iota of perception that you are put off by the book. When in doubt, you can compliment the cover art, or give a quick glance at the synopsis on the back and make a neutral-positive comment about it. And although we can all probably agree that lying isn’t the best tact, a slight fib might help. Saying that you know someone who read and enjoyed the book, or that you’ve heard a lot about the author can help ease the potential awkwardness of the situation.
The most important thing to remember here is that although you don’t want this book, the person who gifted it to you thought you did. They know you like to read, and tried to engage with that passion, albeit in a misguided or under-informed way. Surely that has to count for something, right? The best thing you can do when someone gifts you a book you don’t want, even when you’re stone cold certain that you’ll never be interested in reading it, is to acknowledge the good effort by thanking them. That old axiom “it’s the thought that counts” rings true.
What could it hurt? Maybe now’s not the right time to read a new fantasy series. Maybe you’re not in the right headspace to tackle a dense historical novel. But who knows? Sometimes the books with which we connect the most come to us at unexpected times. Though this person’s lack of knowledge in your established tastes is evident, perhaps they’ve unwittingly given you the very book that will help expand your horizons. At the very least, if they ask you about it, you can have something to say.
We don’t all need to like the same books, but knowing how to deal with receiving a book you don’t want is an unfortunately common part of being a reader. If someone has taken the time trying to connect you with a piece of writing, is there any harm in giving it a skim, even if it’s outside your wheelhouse?