Are Books the Perfect Gift?

While I can’t say that I would pick a book over diamonds, on Christmas day after a day spent eating turkey and dressing, homemade rolls, squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli salad, and too many other things to mention for the mid-day meal, I am ready to curl up with a good book. I can’t really remember when my mother’s tradition of giving me a book or books as a stocking stuffers started, but I do have memories of my dad and brothers watching the Bowl games on television while I found a quiet corner to read. My mother was multi-talented in that she would stay in the same room as the game, but still read the book that I had put in her stocking. Our stocking tradition continued way into adulthood but after I moved away she and I would browse the book selection together, giving big hints on our choices or even sometimes just picking the books out.

As readers most of us love opening a present containing a book by our favorite author. And because of this we often look to books as the perfect gift, too. But my experience over the last few years has shown me that buying a book for someone is similar to buying them perfume. You just have to know their taste because books can be a very personal gift.

I have a beloved aunt – like a second mother to me – that has sent me books on and off for Christmas. I remember when I was thirteen she sent me a book on etiquette – something that I sure didn’t consider riveting or appealing, especially at that age. The last couple of years she has included a book in my gifts, and while I love books, she has no clue what I like to read. One year she sent a book about the history of tea. I rarely drink any kind of tea, even iced tea. The last two years she has sent religious books. Now maybe if I was on a desert island with no other book, then I would read her selections but since there is a world of books out there that I do like, the books never get opened.

It made me reevaluate giving books as gifts. Surprisingly, my brothers – the same ones that you would find more often in front of the television or outside playing football, are almost as big on reading as I am. For years, I bought one brother a book for Christmas, but I knew exactly which one to buy, since his favorite author always released a book around this time of year. A couple of times, my sister-in-law or niece beat me in ordering the book, so I branched out a bit, since we had similar taste. I had more successes than failures, but still did send a few duds his way. My other brother read and still reads mainly science fiction, leaving me in the dark on what to buy. After I fell in love with my Kindle, I picked out my father’s gift to him, and sent him one. He said all the right things, but it took him a couple of months before he actually used it. He later told me that he didn’t think he would like it. Now is he is the one that has discovered all kinds of self-published authors via eBooks.

However, my former neighbor received a Nook a couple of years ago for Christmas, but like many readers she still loves the feel of books in her hands, and there is nothing more enjoyable to her then browsing in a store. She moved away, but last time I talked with her she was only using her Nook occasionally.

When I adopted a soldier, I had no idea what to send. One month I sent Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. I pre-ordered it and had it shipped to her directly. After I checked it out from the library, and quit reading it after about 20 pages, I could only hope that the recipient’s tastes were different than mine and that she enjoyed the book.

I can’t say that buying books or eReaders is any different than buying most gifts. I know I need to be cautious about letting my own tastes intrude in the buying decision. If I know that the person is a reader, now I prefer sending gift certificates. And to be honest, I would much rather have a gift certificate then someone sending me a book that I will never read. I know that it is the thought that counts, and I do appreciate that, but it seems a waste of their time and money. After all, even among romance readers, tastes vary wildly and unless I know someone very well, choosing a book can be hard.

Do you like to receive books as gifts? Do the people that give you books know your taste? Are you one of those people who received an eReader but never uses it because you love the feel of books? Do you give books as gifts, and do you know if they are appreciated?

– Leigh Davis

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18 Responses to Are Books the Perfect Gift?

  1. Marianne McA says:

    I hate receiving books as gifts: they feel like an imposition.

    I can live with getting non-fiction books, because I read non-fiction for different reasons anyway, and it’s never bad to learn something new. But I literally feel like I’m making a sacrifice in reading a fiction book I’ve been given – it’s an act of reciprocal love on my part.

    However my Kindle and Sony Reader were about the best gifts I’ve ever been given. And my mother-in-law dutifully sends me a wodge of book tokens for each Christmas and birthday, and I love that: start to plan what I’ll buy months before.

    I do – occasionally – buy books for my mum if I see something I know she’ll like. But apart from that, because I’m strange about it myself, I would tend not to give books to anyone except quite young children.

  2. Sue Stewart says:

    Books as gifts are terrific — and the solution to ensuring that the gift is to the recipient’s taste is simple: Amazon gift cards. :) Yes, I know, gift cards are “impersonal”, but when it comes to books, it’s really the best way to go. :)

  3. Maggie AAR says:

    I started to say I don’t like receiving books as gifts – and I don’t But I do buy books as gifts. Several family members like me to get them books as they often like what I think they will. In fact, they sort of depend on me to find them reading material. So while I normally don’t like receiving books as gifts, I do give them as presents. This year I gave Anne Aguire’s “Enclave” to the people who loved “Hunger Games”.

  4. dick says:

    NO! I don’t like giving or receiving books as gifts. As MarianneMcA states, they’re an imposition. Gift cards, if the stores don’t go out of business before I can use the card, are OK.

  5. Carrie says:

    I’d pick books over diamonds any day. I don’t wear much jewelry, so I’d much rather than the same amount of money to spend on books. ;-) I may be in the minority, but I really have no use for diamonds other than my engagement ring.

  6. Carrie says:

    I must say, however, that I prefer gift cards to actual books, unless it is someone who knows my tastes.

  7. Eggletina says:

    I prefer gift cards too. Even with people you know, you can’t always predict taste. I don’t personally like the pressure of feeling obligated to read a gift book. Cookbooks and reference books (like gardening books) might be the exception. I do buy books for my kids, and occasionally I might buy a fiction book for someone when they’ve mentioned something specific that they want.

    I love it when my employer gives me Amex gift cards. You can use those most places and on nearly anything you’d want. I plug them into my 1-click settings in Amazon and am good to go on book buying for a while.

  8. farmwifetwo says:

    Gift cards for books – yes. Books – no.

    Now, I do buy books for my parents, kids and nieces/nephews but I make a point of knowing their preferences before I do so. The little one’s I make certain it’s something like a level reader or Whimpy kid variety – I also know that their parents don’t usually buy or buy the big sets out of scholastic so I have an idea…. and gift receipts are always included just incase. My parents I know what they prefer to read and if there is a particular series I am to look for.

    I’m very picky about my own reading… therefore I am very careful what I buy for others.

  9. LeeF says:

    There are many years tnat I would have preferred a book to yet another sweater. Before Amazon, I hinted (and told DH to mention to in-laws) for BN gift cards. Never got any. Would LOVE to get coffee table books, the kind I won’t waste my REAL book money on. I only give books to small children.

  10. Audrey says:

    It’s hard to buy books for me, since I buy so many myself. So chances are if it’s something I’d like, I would have bought it myself. I encourage gift cards and if I get them, often use them for a book or author I’d like to try but haven’t spent the money myself.

    As far as giving, for close family it’s books by request. But since we live so far from other family, I’m not in on those daily conversations that might give me a hint, so I don’t give books to those family members.

  11. Blackjack1 says:

    I would have to concur with most other responses above as books are highly personal and need to be selected with great care when giving them as gifts. Books are a huge part of my life, especially as I teach literature for a living, and so I like to carry on our family tradition of making books a part of our holiday, either in the form of a bookstore gift card or by trying to find out if there is a particular book or type of book (reference, cookbook) that is of interest to each person. For the kids in our family, I want them to appreciate books and so having them under the tree in some form or other is important to me.

  12. LeeB. says:

    Another vote for gift cards. It is just too hard to find the perfect book for a person, even one you know really well.

  13. Cora says:

    I love receiving books as presents and most of the presents I give to others are books as well, unless the recipient is a hardcore non-reader.

    However, I agree that it’s important to have some idea of the recipient’s tastes and preferences. Since I read across many genres, I usually find something to match every taste. Sometimes, however, you get duds. My Dad had zero interest in the Patrick O’Brian novel I bought him, though he had the entire Horatio Hornblower series on his shelves and supposedly liked nautical fiction (it later turned out that he may have owned the Hornblowers, but never read them). He had zero interest in the critically acclaimed crime novel set on Cuba I bought him, though he visited Cuba several times. He had zero interest in the humourous novel set aboard a cruise ship, though he used to build cruise ships for a living. He had zero interest in the DVD box set of Sons of Anarchy I got him, though he loves riding his motorbike. So now he gets socks or shirts or the like.

    As for myself, I was a voracious reader as a kid and was always happy to receive books as presents. But I never read the books I got from one particular aunt, unless I was seriously short on reading matter. Because that aunt let her daughter, my cousin, pick the books. And my cousin was studying to be a teacher at the time and therefore always picked important books of high pedagogic value about the holocaust or poverty or the dangers of drugs or other depressing topics, which I inevitably hated. Coincidentally, that same cousin recently gave me a book for my birthday and once again she managed to pick something that I have very little interest in (literary women’s fiction about frustrated wives and mothers).

    As a teenager I used to draw up wishlists of books I would have loved to get (and still got clothes I didn’t like and ugly bedsheets more often than not). Nowadays, I use the wishlist features of online retailers instead. I’m always happy to get gift cards, but gift cards or money were considered “too impersonal” in my family when I was younger.

  14. CindyS says:

    I have to say, if I receive a book I don’t want to read, I don’t. I don’t feel bad about it but then most people don’t ask about whether I’ve read the book or not.

    I only give books if I know someone is into something new – our Godson was into drawing and admitted he was having problems drawing hands – I went and found a book on drawing the human anatomy so that when he opened the book I could help him look up the drawings I had seen and hope that the book would be helpful.

    Another friend does wire jewelry making so I found a book on more advanced wire work as he was getting the tools but was having a bit of a hard time with the movement – luckily a DVD also came with the book just in case he is a visual learner like I am.

    Another thing I will do is if I know what kind of books someone reads, I go to Amazon where there are lists of readers favourite books – so if I type in Robert Ludlum, I would get suggestions for other authors I might want to try. I admit, some are hit and miss but it’s better than a shot in the dark.

    I also find it funny and a touch frustrating that my family only gives me book gift cards every once in a while. I get it, you don’t want to do the same thing every year but now that my mother only asks for Movie Gift Certificates for all events in which she gets a gift, I think she’s much more open to me and my Book gift cards ;)


  15. VictoriaS says:

    I love books, hard or soft cover, trade or mass market, and e-books. I received 2 Amazon gift cards last year for Christmas, and it was all I could do not to be on the Amazon site 20 minutes after I had them in my hot little hands ( I made myself wait until the 26th…delayed gratification :-).

    I have been trying to convince my family for YEARS, not to buy me anything BUT an Amazon gift card, and last year was the first time I could see any movement toward that goal. I like the idea of being able to pick out my own books and really, really appreciate being able to do so through a gift card.

    So, yes, books do make a perfect gift for a reader…as long as you let the reader choose it for herself….are you seeing this family!?

  16. willaful says:

    Ebook gifts are great because so easy to exchange. At least via Amazon, don’t know about B&N.

    I find them a difficult gift otherwise, because even if you know the person’s taste, you never know if they have it already…

  17. Leigh says:

    Thanks everyone for the reply. It looks like we all pretty much feel the same. Love books, but want to pick them out ourselves! Getting a gift card is like having a whole box of chocolate without the calories. I shop and shop, looking at this book, and then maybe this one It is rare that I impulsively buy a book using my card. I want every penny to count and go toward great books. Sometimes even saving some of the credits toward a rainy day as a treat for myself.

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