The Risky Gift of Books

Since I’ve opted for reading Gunter Grass’ novel very slowly, you won’t get a review from me for a while, but I find myself in a Pre-Christmas sugar-high blogging frenzy (maybe out of regret not to have participated to Napoblomo?), so here I am again, more of a blabbermouth than I usually am. 

A few days ago I decided to offer each of my 4 girlfriends a book for Christmas, which I rarely do. We normally exchange fun gifts or beauty stuff or fancy confections, but we usually don’t wander too much on the bookish side. I’m not quite sure what and how much they read, but I wanted to give them something that they might like and that would remind them of me a bit longer than the time it takes to eat a chocolate truffle. 

I soon realized that it was more difficult that it sounded. I didn’t want picture books, cooking books, or the most recent best-seller that they might already have. I wanted novels. Good ones. Novels we might enjoy talking about together. Stories they would be able to relate to. Nothing boring, but not too light either. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t there to find something for me, but for 4 young women with tastes very different from mine. And I also knew that giving a particular book would reflect on my personal taste in their mind.  

Have you ever wandered in a bookshop normally full of temptations, and just panicked at the idea of choosing the wrong books? Believe me, it’s not a feeling I’m used to. 

The first pick was the easiest: Queen of Hearts, by Wilkie Collins. The friend I’ll offer it to loves Victorian literature, delicate feelings and twisted plots. Her tastes screamed Wilkie Collins to me. 

The second one is for a foreign-language and French lit teacher with a very liberal and open personality. I was drawn to Nancy Huston’s essays: Nord Perdu, in which she tells how she finds herself in-between two languages and two worlds, the Canadian one and the French one (I reviewed this one in February). I loved the friendly, open tone of Nancy Huston’s voice and I think my friend might like her too. 

The third one was a rather risk-adverse choice: La petite fille de Mr. Linh, by Philippe Claudel, for the friend who probably reads the least. I didn’t enjoy that book all that much, but it’s an easy good read, full of feelings, no too long. Philippe Claudel’s previous book, Les Ames Grises (Grey souls), which I liked a lot more, has been turned into a movie and I thought she might have seen it. 

The last book is for a friend who is single, independent, a frequent traveller, not someone who happily stays home for a quiet weekend. I took a risk and chose Dans la guerre, by Alice Ferney. It’s a moving, sometimes brutal story of a couple during WWI, a woman who is stifled at home, and her husband on the warfront. I’m not too sure this book will be a very pleasant experience for her, but I liked it very much. The more I think about it, the more doubts I have. 

How do you select books for your friends who aren’t particularly book-oriented? Do you think I should have stuck to other gifts? Have you ever made a risky book choice for someone, that backfired (I’m getting jittery) or was a pleasant surprise?

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6 thoughts on “The Risky Gift of Books

  1. I love giving and receiving books and am usually spot-on, as I am sure you will be. However, I have made one error – I gave a friend whose taste runs to the classical a Ruth Rendell thriller set on a ship in the Arctic (where my friend had also travelled). I don’t think she ever read it.

  2. I tend to buy books only for those who I know like them, but that’s because I feel so much anxiety about it … it is hard to get it right! Your choices sound appropriate, though. I like getting books from people, even when they get my taste just a bit wrong.

  3. Just wait till Christmas to know my comment on this subject, as I have chosen one book for you ! The fact that you may comment this book here in january makes the choice more risky..

  4. I love giving books as gifts. Those I give books to usually read at least a little. I make it a point to find out what they have read and liked so I can get a sense of what they might enjoy. I like finding something that is similar to what they usually read but just off enough for it to be a different experience.

  5. I rarely buy books for friends that aren’t bookish, but when I do I’m usually right. One memorable wrong move was Mawrdew Czgowchwz by James McCourt — memorable because I had also misdiagnosed it for myself. Neither of us appreciated McCourt’s style and in hindsight I should have known this.

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