Here’ s a happy holiday story from author Ann Patchett on her independent bookstore, Parnassus, which she and a partner opened in Nashville and seems to be a roaring success. So far the book-buying season is shaping up fairly nicely if this PW piece and the recent purchases of my colleague, Stacey, are any indication.
I too obey the commandment to Support Thy Local Bookseller, worship at the altar of the Book-as-Perfect-Gift and in all ways submit to the myriad orthodoxies of bookworld (ebook exciting! Print book not dead!) but I admit that I spend an unhealthy amount of time ruminating over books as presents. I am not a shopper by nature–retail spaces exert a debilitating power over my ability to remember what I came in for—but I like bookstores, and can easily while away hours I don’t have in their stacks. Selecting the precisely-right volume for a meaningful holiday gift is, however, no easy feat. Much as I try to remind myself that the perfect can be the enemy of the good (in this instance anyway), and there is no “one” pre-ordained volume that found wrapped beneath the tree will be universally acknowledged to be THE BEST GIFT EVER, I can get a little stuck. I select and then discard a dizzyingly long list of possible books, running them through a matrix based on the recipient’s taste, the book’s reviews, its visibility relative to its obscurity (some folks want to read award-winners, others dig the overlooked gems), plot points that might reinforce or unpleasantly remind its recipient of real life events, appropriateness of content if picked up by recipient’s seven year old twins, and dozens of other factors. I nearly always overwhelm myself into buying at least one, sometimes two, books for myself, as a consolation for all the mental effort and on the grounds that I know for sure that I will like them. I repeat this ritual as necessary, until all my holiday shopping is done or I run out of money.
How do you choose? Do you predicate the book on your own tastes (I know folks who give copies of the same book to everyone they know, like a signature cocktail) elicit holiday wishlists, interrogate family members, or simply hand over a gift card?