Is a book the greatest possible Christmas gift? I think it might be.
My friends and family know what to expect from me this time of year. There will be no expensive baubles, no designer perfumes and aftershaves; no boxes of chocolate or candy purchased at the last minute. Almost all of them will be receiving from me a book (or two). Not a book token; not an Amazon gift card; and not an Audible credit. I mean an actual physical book.
At first glance, this might appear lazy. I bought my loved ones a book last year, I will buy them another this year and, in all likelihood, I will buy them another next year. Predictable and formulaic, right? Well, yes and no.
Yes, the physical book itself is entirely predictable. It will be a collection of letters, words, phrases, sentences and chapters inked onto paper and bound.
But I put more thought into it than that. Way more.
My book selection is done not by some unfathomable computer algorithm, like a dating app. As I am reading a book myself, I am already thinking who among my friends and family would enjoy this.
I only ever gift fiction books; and in doing so, I am not gifting words but people, characters and personalities that I have hand-picked to suit the recipient. In gifting a book, I am effectively saying: “Here’s some people I have spent some time with . I think you will enjoy their company too. Enjoy getting to know them.”
It’s like introducing your school friends to your work colleagues only better and with less baggage. I have not warned anyone in advance that “Steve can be a bit outspoken”, that “Joanne drinks a bit too much” or that “Peter is a left-leaning liberal who likes cats, classical music and the writing of Charles Dickens”.
I am purely an intermediary; a facilitator. I make the introduction by handing them the book and then I leave them to decide if they like the characters and people with whom they have just been connected.
Thinking about it, I guess there is one slightly selfish aspect to the gift of a book. Assuming that my loved ones actually approve of my gift and read it, we now have an additional bond. We have something extra in common; a new topic of conversation. There is also the hope that they might uncover some hidden meaning or nuance that I missed when I first encountered the book’s characters for myself.
The title of this article asks “is a book the greatest Christmas gift?”
I think I just answered my own question.