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December 20, 2016

Will Schwalbe: The Greatest Gift of All

Posted by emily founder and New York Times bestselling author Will Schwalbe knows a thing or two about how important books can be; his latest, BOOKS FOR LIVING --- which will be available on December 27th --- is all about the books that shaped his life. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that he’s not content with simply giving books as Christmas gifts; he’s intent on the interpersonal element of the reading experience. Here, he explains how the ultimate gift isn’t just a book --- it’s bringing people together.

I used to think that a book was the greatest gift you could give anyone, but I no longer think that’s true; I now think a book is the second greatest gift. The conversation you have about a book is the greatest. Of course, anyone in a good book group knows this very thing already.

So, to take advantage of this, I’ve changed my holiday book-giving habits. In years past, I would buy for each person on my Christmas list a special book, chosen just for that friend or family member. An Octavia Butler novel for a pal; a Wallace Stegner for a cousin; an Alison Bechdel for a colleague. But now I’ve started to do something different: I buy everyone the same book.

Of course, this makes shopping far easier. But that’s not why I do it. Nor is it because I don’t care enough about family and friends to consider their individual personalities. Nope, that’s not it either.  Here’s the reason: I figure that if I give lots of people the same book, and if I tell them that I’m doing so, and if I also buy a copy for myself, then I’m giving all of us (myself included) the gift of having something new in common. In essence, every year I get to create the ad hoc book club of my dreams, composed of family and friends, and I always get to choose what we read.

I don’t buy a book for everyone in my life: I still buy other books as gifts, and also throws, liquor, food, vases and assorted items that catch my eye between Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. And I still tend towards gift certificates from local bookstores for friends’ kids when I’m stumped.

But I make sure every year that at least five or six people are drafted into my holiday book club. This year’s selection is the gorgeous UPSTREAM, essays by the poet Mary Oliver. I can’t wait for Christmas Day when some of my friends and family members will find copies of this book waiting for them. And I’m even more excited about the conversations that will follow.