Excitedly tearing away shiny wrapping paper, ripping off crisp sheets of tissue, peeling away sellotape, to reveal…. A book. A classic, and (whisper it), slightly boring choice? Since the invention of iEverything, books are dangerously close to ranking amongst socks and chocolates as predictably ‘safe’ Christmas presents. A book can be bought easily, often cheaply, and is guaranteed to tick the box with little chance of error – after all, who doesn’t like books? As all this points to a book making a very good present indeed, its enduring popularity as a Christmas gift comes as no surprise.
What seems like a win-win situation does, however, have a catch (as, of course, anything so quickly described as a ‘win-win’ would…). Christmas is, as much as the John Lewis advertisements would tell you otherwise, a competitive season. Presents show your family and friends just how much you love them, and in the ritual of present giving, a slightly grasping and calculating gremlin lies just below the jolly surface. Deep down, all of us judge the presents we receive – we assess their originality, and how much thought went into their purchase (if you’re really mercenary, you might even glance at the price tags). When books of all shapes and sizes have sat proudly on the shelves from the 1st December onwards, ready-made, perfect presents, how much thought and careful planning can Aunt Mabel’s ‘History of Kings and Queens’ tome really ever show?
Although a book is undeniably a quick-fix for when you’re really lost for ideas, its reputation for being a rather weak present is undeserved. In fact, a book can be one of the most thoughtful presents a person can give. No two books are alike; there are histories and anthologies, cookbooks and biographies, books of poetry, books of letters. Then there are the novels: romance, action, adventure, crime, thriller, modern and classic. To illustrate or not to illustrate, hardback or paperback? To enter a bookshop is to enter a world of possibility. When there is so much choice, giving a book really says a lot about both the giver and the receiver.
There are even more options once you venture outside the traditional bookshop. A signed or rare book by a favourite author, or a first edition, is a highly personal present. These make perfect gifts: as they often need to be tracked down from a specialist shop, they show a touching amount of effort, and with a bit of research, books by lesser-known authors can sometimes be relatively inexpensive. More than anything, however, they demonstrate a huge amount of love, as they say that you know the recipient inside out (or at least well enough to know their favourite author or book).
Giving a signed edition of a well-loved book is a sure-fire sign of a close relationship, a badge of honour that proves how well you know someone. But what about choosing a new book, one you know they won’t have read? This, perhaps, betrays an even deeper bond. It requires a leap of faith: you know them so well, that you can even guess what they might like. A great murder mystery for a friend who loves crime drama on the telly, or a beautiful book of Italian photographs for a cousin who’s always wanted to go to Venice.
Giving a book is the ultimate thoughtful act, because it is really giving – not only do you offer someone a whole world between two covers, but you also offer something of yourself. In giving a book, you say a lot – how you feel about your friend, what sort of person you think they are, and what you think the two of you have in common. A book is a far more personal present than you might think. So this Christmas, don’t be disappointed with a book – it can be more meaningful than a whole orchard of Apple products…