Analysis Paralysis

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?


3 Responses to Analysis Paralysis

  1. Katie says:

    I must admit I also ruminate much too long, usually talking myself out of whatever selection I intended to purchase for each person. Last year, I wound up buying several copies of the same book and handing them out to my closest friends. I also have a tradition with my father of buying a “find” at the used bookstore. My best purchase was a falling apart at the seams 1st Ed of To Kill A Mockingbird. This year, I’m so far behind on buying for everyone I wish someone would come a cross reference guide that takes taste and personality into consideration.

    Here’s my list of people to buy for if anyone wants to help:

    1. A 35-year-old man who loves sports and humor but hates to read unless it’s short and to the point.
    2. A computer genius by day and day dreamer by night. He loves history, Tom Clancy but would love something new and exciting.
    3. A 60 something woman who claims to have the body of a 20-year-old, loves health, Suzanne Summers but also enjoys James patterson.
    4. Two toddlers, the sillier the better…
    5. Relatives who only read inspirational. Nonfiction and fiction suggestions welcomed.
    6. Friends who won’t admit to reading 50 shades of grey who really wish their was a more uh hum upstanding version of the book.
    7. Friends who do admit to reading 50 shades of grey and think this story is what love is really about…

    If you help me, I promise to go to the bookstore as soon as my son stops teething and load my Eco bag with your suggestions… After checking the reviews of course.

  2. Stef Kramer says:

    I found this post quite amusing. While making a holiday shopping list isn’t terribly fun, my attitude begins to shift to the appropriate sort of joy once I consider the idea of tapping into a bookstore. Somehow, I consider bagging a tote full of novels or memoirs for my in-laws or coworkers a bit self-indulgent. Based on historical events, the opening of the book will only invoke a polite (“You shouldn’t have!) reaction. But I won’t be deterred. I’ll keep attempting to transform a few casual readers into bibliophiles…with the hopes that I’ll get some books, and good discussion, in return. Tis the season!

  3. Emily Carter says:

    I do spur of the moment, inspiration book buying. There is just so much to choose from!

    At the Texas Book Festival, the wonderful, marvelous Anita Silvey spoke about her process of creating the “Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac.”

    Whew!! Just listening to the sheer amount of work that went into it was wearing.

    The Alamanac is a guide to parents for books of quality to read to their children. And, it is literaly a book for every day of the year.

    The Festival had advance copies available so I snatched up two for my nieces with babies and todlers.

    It was fun for me and will give me a way to share books through three generations.

    Aand Douglas Brinkley talked about his new book:”Cronkite” — merry christmas to my brother!

    And for me? The new LBJ bio by Robert A Caro.

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