What to give the attorney who has everything? ‘Tis the season for that challenging question.
Perhaps Scott Turow’s newest, “Identical” (Grand Central Publishing), Chicago attorney Thomas R. Leavens’ “Music Law for the General Practitioner (ABA) or, hey, even my own “Courting Kathleen Hannigan” (Ampersand) or “Warming Up” (She Writes Press)?
That would be so kind of you, especially if you opted for the self-published book, and all of your independently published and small press author friends would really appreciate the sales, but … if you’re going to give a book as a present (and there are all sorts of holiday book lists for every kind of book-lover), you may need to think twice.
Recently, I read a guest post on Where Writers Win (writerswin.com) by former Fordham University professor and novelist Cash Kushel suggesting the “novel” idea that guests “bring a book” to a party instead of (or in addition to) the usual bottle of wine.
He confessed that he had already foisted his own books on all of his friends using this ploy, and now was suggesting trading books with his author friends so that they could foist each other’s books on each other’s friends. A clever idea for the author — if blatantly and unapologetically self-serving.
It has the added benefits that the author can rationalize that the hosts actually get to enjoy the book — the “hostess gift” isn’t immediately consumed by the guests — and your unique gift will be remembered long after the pinot grigio, even if it becomes a doorstopper or sleep aid.
And, if you purchase a book by an author friend, your friend will be grateful for the incremental sales that move an independent author from No. 1,113, 567 on Amazon.com to No. 1,113,566. (Yes, this is a very tough business!)
Now, say you don’t know an author personally but want to choose a book for a friend. There are pitfalls, as with any present. Just like wine, scotch and chocolates, individuals have preferences. You don’t give scotch to a wine drinker, and you don’t give chocolate to a diabetic.
The book you choose (even if it’s by your best friend) could be all wrong for your other best friend. You really do need to know a person well to give a book as a present, and, even more than knowing them personally, you need to know specifically their reading tastes.
When it first came out, “Courting Kathleen Hannigan” was arranged by a friend to be the “book of the week” in Star magazine. And I was flabbergasted by some of my attorney colleagues who actually saw it the very week it was published. (Most claimed to have seen it in airports and dentist offices, but one confessed that she was, in fact, a celebrity junkie when she wasn’t doing complex financial litigation.)
If you know a person’s reading habits — and think them shoddy — this is not the time to improve them or to broaden their horizons, even if it’s “for their own good.” Remember, it is first a gift, and secondly a book. And really, would you want to receive a 500-page “gift” written in a completely foreign language that you felt compelled to at least try to slog through?
That’s what some books do — impose an unwanted obligation. When you give the wrong book, there is that risk that your friend will feel ever so slightly guilty each time they see you. Your feelings will be at least slightly hurt. You will hear repeatedly that they “haven’t had time yet” to open it to page one. Then they will start avoiding your calls. Next time, this little rift may grow inexplicably into a real hazard. If you are still friends next year, you will want to think “gift card.”
And no, best-sellers are not safe choices. If a person really is a reader, and they are always up to date on the latest, then you run the risk they’ve either read the best-sellers or have made an affirmative decision not to.
Similarly, “old” books may be nice to look at, but aren’t necessarily valuable. If your friend is a collector, they are apt to be quite fussy about the book’s condition. On the other hand, there may be sentimental reasons for giving old or used books as presents, and those gifts become meaningful because the accompanying card explains the sentiment and meaning of the gift.
Another take on holiday book giving might follow the “white elephant” game — everyone brings a wrapped book, and the first person opens a gift, and the second person then has a choice of the known book or a wrapped one. Continue around the circle until everyone has a book of their choosing.
There is, after all, a book for every possible taste. If you’ve brought a book you love to the party, at least you know for certain you’ll go home with a book you love.