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December 19, 2013

Alma Katsu on the Perils of Giving Books at Christmas

Posted by emily

Alma Katsu's debut, THE TAKER, a Gothic novel of suspense, has been compared to the early work of Anne Rice and Elizabeth Kostova's THE HISTORIAN. Now, she returns with the final book in the Taker trilogy, THE DESCENT. In this stunning conclusion, Lanore McIlvrae faces her powerful nemesis, Adair, one last time --- and asks him for a favor that will cost her either her love or her life. Alma doesn't only deal in supernatural mysteries; she also contemplates the mysteries of daily life --- like how to give a booklover a book without offending his or her sophisticated sensibilities. Here, she offers a solution to that age-old question.

My story is not going to be about a favorite book given or received for Christmas. I’ve learned the hard way that the readers in my family are pretty particular and really don’t want anyone picking out books for them. A gift certificate will do just fine, but woe to the person who tries to foist an unknown title on them as a present. Anyone who claims to know “the perfect book for you” is viewed with grave suspicion.

It really is the book lover’s dilemma, isn’t it? Every librarian and bookseller knows what I mean. You read a lot; you’re a veritable walking catalog of books. You know the latest releases everyone’s talking about (you read Bookreporter, don’t you?); you know which books are better as audiobooks, read to you word by glorious word. You know the tried-and-true classics; you know exquisite unknown gems. Still, trying to get someone to take your advice on a book they’ve never heard of is like trying to get an eight-year-old to eat escargot. It’s not going to happen.

It’s heartbreaking. You want to play book matchmaker; you dream of introducing someone to the book that will change his life forever. The sad reality, however, is that no book lover really trusts anyone else’s recommendations. You give someone what you think of as the perfect book, only to have it sink beneath the waves without a trace or, worse yet, stumble across it years later in the friend’s home, languishing on a shelf in pristine condition (save a quarter-inch of dust), a virgin bride who died on her wedding night, never to be touched.

The problem, as someone explained to me, is that a book represents an investment in time. Readers know that, unlike TV or movies, a book will take hours to finish. It’s a wonderful thing to give yourself over to a book when you’re in love with it; the hours spent lost in its world are given happily. But we resent the time lost to a book that’s not quite right; it makes us cranky beyond all proportion to the time we’ve spent. Forced to fork over our precious leisure hours to a book you’re only reading out of obligation feels almost as bad as being mugged at gunpoint.  

My advice is to give gift cards or certificates. You’ll feel good that you’re not giving a present that will only add empty calories, like chocolates, but will nourish their minds or imaginations. The recipient will get the pleasure of perusing the stacks in a bookstore, or leafing through page after page of online treats; as we all know, shopping for a book is almost as much fun as reading one. If it makes you feel better, include a list of recommended titles you’ve drawn up especially for that person. That way you get the satisfaction of playing book matchmaker without the horror of later finding the jilted would-be paramour left on the shelf.