Give Books for Christmas!
About this time of year, every year, the ads for Christmas — places to go, things to do, and especially stuff to buy, buy, buy — attack me from all sides. I can’t walk down the street, turn on the radio or the television without a Christmas reminder — and it’s barely December.
At first I get angry, then I feel overwhelmed and then a sort of low-level malaise sets in and stays with me until at least December twenty-sixth. Some years I’m better than others at blocking out the hum of holiday disquiet. One year, when my youngest daughter was born so close to Christmas that I couldn’t possibly bother about anything beside that perfect baby in my arms, I just let the holidays happen and I remember a sense of calm and contentedness took over, somehow overriding the hype. Of course, I should have learned that year that I do have complete control over the holiday train and can choose to jump on or let it pass by. But we all know it’s not that easy. Somehow the idea has become ingrained that we need to be part of that perfect happy family Christmas tableau.
One year, I ordered all gifts online in November, set up a central wrapping station in my dining room and, as the packages were delivered one-by-one over a few weeks time, I played Christmas music and wrapped boxes while sipping peppermint tea. It was lovely, mostly, and avoided all the rushing around and last-minute wrapping on Christmas Eve. This year, I decided to try that again and have done some online shopping already. But then, the other day, as I scrolled through various retailers’ websites, I realized I was still falling prey to that Christmas need to buy stuff, pretty stuff, any stuff for my friends and family not because they need it, but because it will show them how much I care about them. Really? There must be a better way. It doesn’t work to suggest to friends and family that we not exchange gifts. I tried that one year and succeeded in alienating many of my friends with that idea, even though I also suggested — let’s just set aside time to spend together. Some welcomed that idea, but others were offended and at least one said, I love picking out the perfect gift for you — I don’t want to give that up. Sigh.
And then I had this great idea. What if I got everyone on my list a BOOK! For me, books are the most fun gift to get and to give. So, this year, I’m going to try it. I’ve already had a lot of fun thinking about the books I’ve read and loved this year and which ones might be perfect for the individuals on my gift-giving list. One of my favorite reads this year was Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. It may even be in paperback now and I can think of several friends who would love that book — the tough part will be finding one who has not already read it. Then there’s a book I haven’t read, but heard a piece about on NPR called, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen. And, yes, it’s the perfect book for my daughter who majored in Russian in college, studied abroad in Moscow and loves to cook. It helps that she also has a great sense of the Russian absurd. I kind of want to throw in Ian Frazier’s, Travels in Siberia, now that I’m thinking of Russia — wonder who would like that? I’ll have to check my list — anyone who loves to travel and has read and appreciates a Russian literature maybe. Then I read a review of a biography of sorts of Beatrix Potter. Actually, it’s about Potter’s garden, which inspired her beautifully illustrated Peter Rabbit Books called, Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell. I know a gardener on my list who also loves children’s picture books — this is perfect for her!
Chad Harbach’s, The Art of Fielding, is a wonderful novel and would be great for a young man who’s maybe a jock and also likes to read (it takes place on a fictional college campus — the protagonist plays baseball.) Of course, I loved this book and am not a young male jock. I do like baseball, though I don’t think that’s mandatory for liking this novel. Now I’m going to look at my bookshelves and revisit those books I’ve read and loved this year — with my Christmas list in mind. Ooh, here’s a writer I discovered this year, Christopher Castellani — I think I know someone who would like his family trilogy beginning with A Kiss for Maddalena, or maybe just the most recent one, All This Talk of Love. And then there’s my friend who grew up with Chihuahuas as pets — she gets the new Pepé novel — The Big Chihuahua, written by my friends Waverly Fitzgerald and Curt Colbert.
This is so much fun! Wait! Am I really having fun selecting gifts? I think I’ve found the answer to my Christmas malaise. I could go on and on with my recommendations but now it’s your turn. Give it a try — start thinking about the books you’ve loved this year and match them up with your friends and family. I’m pretty sure this is a great idea. And, here’s another thing — If you buy books from your local independent bookstore and include a gift receipt, in the off-chance that your friend has already read the book you’ve selected, because it’s so perfect for her, she gets the added bonus of returning the book and strolling through, say, Elliott Bay Books, to find another book that is just as perfect! Happy reading and happy book selecting to you!