One thing people know about me is that I surround myself with books and have done so since childhood. I love books in all their shapes, sizes and conditions. I have a dog-chewed Julie Garwood I’ll probably never part with. The dog who chewed it is long gone and missed, but the book? It’s wrapped in plastic and stuck on a book case with my keepers. One of the hardest things I ever have to do is attempt purging. (*Shudders.*) That word is too harsh: I prefer weeding through, to save gems, and winnowing out the ones I’ll never try again. As I’ve gotten older and moved houses, I’ve realized my obsession over keeping possession of books is a comfort, and I really need it to stay sane. Plus, with all the bookstores and used bookstores disappearing, I need the knowledge that I still have a book or two from a happier time. Which brings me to the point of today’s article:
Giving a book.
I think we’re losing this gesture.
Remember the good old days when books were plentiful and it was common to gift a book. Whether paperback or hardcover, doesn’t matter—the important thing is that you could easily give someone a physical object and share in the feeling of giving. You could talk about the cover, the back copy, the paper, the typeface. You could tell a story about how you got the book and what it means to you. That funny orange stain is just a bit of Cheetos. Or, usually in my case, the bookmark is an airline ticket stub. Then we could reminisce over the memories of that trip.
Or, the book is wrapped in colorful paper with perhaps a special message inscribed inside. Perhaps you stood in line waiting for it to be signed, chatted with the author, or shipped it off with exact return postage for an author signature and agonized over the possibility of it getting lost in the postal unknown. Each book had a history, and each was a special gifting of something of yourself to the person you were giving it.
A more common gesture was the gift to a new acquaintance of a book I thought they would like. Ah, the pleasure of being able to give and then later discuss the book. Even if they didn’t agree with my assessment, we still had something in common: the shared experience of reading. Our friendship had a foundation and could grow. Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of being on the receiving end of not one but TWO books, and the feelings it brought back are still resonating in me.
What the books were about (business management) is not important, but the whole act of pulling them out of a cluttered backpack to give me was precious. And it became richer as he related the story of how he obtained them, where he read them, what he thought about the ideas and, best of all, maybe I would like them too. The gifting of two books cemented a budding relationship. My response was to suggest a novel—my go-to book for new genre readers, Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard (Atria, August 2000)—but I could only give it as a suggestion. He did buy it via Amazon, but we both knew this wasn’t the same as the books he had dug out of his backpack. Somehow, pixels on the screen don’t carry the same oomph as a physical object.
So, when we have our monthly reader tea gatherings, I’m always excited about two things: the name game, where I find out what people are reading, and the book trade. The book trade is a little bit like opening presents on Christmas. There are oohs and ahs. There are suggestions as to the pluses or minuses of the book, and advice given and accepted—and some discarded. It’s fun, and even if you don’t take anything home, you’ve shared an experience.
With the name game, you get to test your memory, or pull out a notebook, or—even better for the publishers and authors—whip out a reading device and hope it connects to the “cloud” so you can peruse for the book mentioned. But there isn’t a tangible object. There’s very little oohing. There’s some advice and not nearly as much excitement. You’re definitely taking just the advice of the reader with no backup from a cover or back copy or even sneak peeks inside.
Unfortunately, I don’t think e-books will ever be as joyful a gift as a physical book. Yes, I know you can “gift” one at most online bookstores to an email address. But is that same as giving it in person?
And now I have this insane craving. Seriously, I need to dig out my old copy of Mr. Perfect, which I have in hardcover and in paperback, in case the Internet goes down. It’s a delicious tale of what can go wrong when you scheme up a perfect guy but end up running for your life. It’s great for readers of straight romance, ones who like a mystery and suspense, and ones who like humor. In other words, Mr. Perfect is just a “perfect” read!
So, what’s the book you suggest to a new reader of your genre? It can be your favorite of the moment, or one you always go back to. Or, if you think I’m just a Luddite, I want to hear why.
Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors an annual readers conference, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.