Why Not a Book?

I wrote this article on request for the fine website writing.ie, and I'm very glad that I did, although in many ways it's a complete about-face from my last post. Read on!xmas book tree

Okay, this advice is for me as much as anyone else. Buy books this Christmas. Put a great novel on your shopping list. It makes sense, doesn't it? If you're a writer, you're a reader, and you no doubt have memories of being transported by books in a way that nothing else can equal. So why wouldn't you want to share that feeling with someone else?

I don't know. But the truth is, I can't remember buying books for my friends and family that often at Christmas. I mean real books now, not joke books or internet spin-offs. A book of a hundred pictures of cats in moustaches or babies wearing bacon may be a worthwhile project, but it's not the kind of book I'm talking about. I mean a story.

Why is this so difficult?

bangkok-christmas-1Well, first of all, Christmas shopping is something I don't exactly enjoy, and I suspect I'm not alone. Stores are crowded and airless, the music pumped through the sound system is borderline sadistic, and as December wears on there's that feeling of panic that descends. You'll never find gifts for all these people. Who are they, anyway? Who knows what they want? Grab whatever's on the shelf. A candle in the shape of an elf? An elf mooning somebody? Fine. Just get me out of here. Christmas shopping is something I want to get out of the way early and fast. I don't want to browse. I don't want to actually think about the people I'm buying for, and what would truly engage or intrigue them. Matching someone you know with the right book takes a bit of time, a bit of thought. No wonder I've avoided it.kitschyelvesandsantas

Then there are risks involved as well. You have to know the person you're buying for. Choosing a book for someone isn't like choosing a juice maker. It's personal. What does this person enjoy? What moves them? What makes them laugh? Your friends and family might assume that your choice of book says something about how you see them. A lot of the time, they're right. If someone presented me with a copy of 100 Greatest Moments in Hurling 1947-58 for Christmas, I'd probably think, 'Okay. We obviously haven't talked in a while.' And imagine buying someone a book that you absolutely love, your favourite, your treasure - and then they read it and hate it. How awkward would that be? Like introducing your sister to your best friend and finding they can't stand each other.

And there are other reasons why books are not easy gifts. You want your presents to have that 'wow' factor, something that'll lead to jumping up and down and hugs under the tree, an instant reaction. Books don't really have much of a wow factor, and you'll never get an instant reaction. You can't pop one in your mouth and pass the rest around the room to share. You can't try them on. They don't have flashing lights and they don't spin around playing the 'Gangnam Style' christmas-bookssong. If you've given someone a story, the real significance of this gift might not uncover itself for months. All your loved one sees is a title and a picture. They don't know what's inside. A book is a gift that keeps itself wrapped up even after you've torn off the paper. You probably won't get 'I love it'. You might get 'I'm looking forward to it.'buy books

But when you do crack those covers, I happen to think a book is worth more than all the Christmas sweaters in Dunnes put together. A good book will stay with you forever. I can look at the book spines on my shelf and I'll remember the time of year when I read each one, where I was living and what I was doing.  I'll remember whole scenes from the books themselves, places I've never been to and yet can see in my mind clearly, characters who came to be friends. There's a whole world in that bound collection of paper. Think of the difference between looking at a book you haven't read and one you can remember staying up with until your eyes dried out, when you finally turned off the light at two in the morning and then reached for it again - because you had to know what happened next. That's a real gift. Even if it's a book you don't end up loving, it's still a whole universe that you never would have known existed if a friend hadn't taken the time and thought to bring it to you.

So give it a try. Get someone a book this year. It's a risk, and it takes some effort. But risks make life interesting, and why wouldn't you want to make the effort? These people aren't going to be around forever. Just imagine the scene on Christmas morning. 'Here,' you can say. 'I got you a whole universe. In fact, I got you three of them.'

'Now what did you get me?'

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