Books as Gifts.
Every year, around the holidays, I like to give books as gifts, and that includes giving books to some of the writers I know. That is some assignment; giving a book to a writer. I don't want to send them a book already read; and I don't want to send a book by an author who may have given my writer friend a bad review, or by someone whose sales far exceed his (or hers). So about this time of year I go on a search to find the perfect gift that I can give to each of them. Something that will be enjoyed; something out of the ordinary. While I am at it, some of these books will be just for others on my gift list. And the books don't have to be Big Priced Lavishly Illustrated books in full color. There are lots of paperbacks that may just hit the spot. Is that considered cheap or considerate? If it is the perfect choice, it shouldn't matter what it cost. It's the thought. Or in this case, it's the book.
Last year I found an unusual book to give: Novels in Three Lines, (New York Review of Books Classic) by Felix Feneon and Luc Sante (an example of a great paperback for a gift). That might be even a better present this year with Twitter where everyone tweets in 140 words or less. Digital books: yesterday's news; novels on Twitter: so today! One author who got the book from me took it as a hint that his books were too long (rightfully so) but otherwise everyone loved it.
I also like Zagat's Movie Guide (another paperback) It has the added virtue of a low price in these economic times, but without a doubt can be a big hit because you can stack up your top ten movie favorites against theirs. I even sent one to my sister, Barbara, and we have been arguing about the Top Ten Favorites ever since she got it.
Here is a winner: The New York Public Library Desk Reference. The NYPL has all kinds of reference books for the science minded; the literary inclined, and the American History buffs. Of course, now with the Internet, these books might be more for the curious than for actual fact checking.
Another book for writers (and avid readers will enjoy): Now All We Need Is a Title: Famous Book Titles and How They Got That Way by Andre Bernard. Coming up with the right title for a book can be pure anguish for everyone involved, and everyone has an opinion. And it is both reassuring and fun when you see writers from James Agee to Eudora Welty to Margaret Mitchell and J.D. Salinger struggle over their titles that have become part of our culture. Raymond Chandler expressed his attitude when he said to Alfred A Knopf, his publisher, "I am trying to think up a good title for you to want me to change."
Those of us who work in the book business should take a vow right now: GIVE BOOKS FOR GIFTS. For a long time, I went out of my way to steer clear of giving books. Since I was working with books and had access to them, I felt that people would feel cheated if I didn't push further into my imagination to come up with the perfect present. But somewhere along the line, I got wise. Books make great gifts and I am in a unique position-- editor, publisher, reader -- to come up with something special for each person on my list.. My imagination and my knowledge make going on line or to the book store, with a list in hand a great joy. Choosing and buying books are always fun, even if they are not for you.
So far, this year, here is what's new on my list:
For the thriller lover, I have the perfect gift: an introduction to Lisbeth Salander in Steig Larson's New York Times bestselling trilogy. The first two books have already been published: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (paperback, now) and The Girl Who Played With Fire (hardcover). The third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest will be published in May of next year. (Perk alert: working at Knopf, I have already read it and it is better than the first two). So here is the gift that keeps on giving; the paperback, the hardcover and a gift certificate for the third book to be redeemed later. There are fruit of the month and flowers of the month; so why not a book in six months just in time for someone to finish the first two? And if the recipient has read the first two, she can recycle the gift and look forward to the third. What could be better than giving books that the Times Literary Supplement called: "...as good as crime writing gets." ?
I have a lot of readers in my life. Sara Nelson's So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading is a perfect addition to my gift list. Everyone who loves to read can relate to this book chronicling reading certain books at certain times in our lives. You can find it in paperback with its appealing cover of a girl sitting in the midst of all her books. And it will make a great stocking stuffer. I think this will be the book I will give to some of my writer friends this year and a stepdaughter or two or three who love to read and never have the time.
For the last couple of years, and again this year, one of my favorite gifts is Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song by Les Beletsky and Jon L. Dunn. It is well worth the $50 dollar retail price. I love this book and couldn't resist buying one for myself. You turn to any page and there is a picture of a bird; a description; and you press a button and you hear the bird sing. I guarantee you, it will fascinate all ages.
I still haven't made my final gift list, but it is time for me to start reading the round-up year-end lists of books. If it is the thought/ book that counts, I am thinking, I am thinking. Are you? Any ideas?