June 17th, 2011 / 6:38 pm

white elephants and vibrators and teeth into necks–books

For his birthday, I gave my father The Pale King. I thought he would glow because he has and always has read daily and he spent his entire life as an IRS accountant and who writes IRS books? He blarred the book. He said, “Sean, this book has no fucking paragraphs. It is chugged full of shit. I’m not reading it.” I said something like, “Uh, books can be good without paragraphs…” Anyway, fuck it. I can’t comment that book, have not read it (might). Can we talk about books as presents? They are sort of awkward. They are the giver and the given. The dancer and the dance. Yes? Like I know right now at least 20 poets who were given The Top 500 Poems (this book is a fucking perpetual barbed wire necklace of albatross dung to poets; I know poets who have 7 copies, like aunt, aunt, mom, bewildered boyfriend, aunt, dog-walker, step-mom; I know people who have like a side Ebay business off this one book), just because their friends/relatives were baffled about 1.) What the fuck is a poet? 2.) What would you give such a person?

I guess my point is can we talk books as gifts? Ones you gave that worked versus backfired? Stories? A guy, a girl, an intern (Leaves of Ass, cough, Grass, anyone?) Ones you have received? Drop us some horror tales, I know you have them. Oh, you’re a “writer,” here’s your 14th  “arty” notebook. Moleskin? The bible? Top 500 poems? To sum this up, and to add a structural detail [writer/readers, this is called the loop–you end on a beginning anecdote] that no one really cares about (sorry), I just today sent my dad a portable, collapsible fishing rod  (you can take it anywhere!) for Sunday, Father’s Day. He’s going to open it. He’s going to grunt. He’s going to hate it.

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  1. kb

      I’ve read PK twice already, despite. I continue to give my parents and siblings books that I don’t assume they will automatically enjoy. Once in a while they do, and I can talk to them about it.

  2. Joe Sutton

      As you mentioned, as a writer I’ve received Moleskines from each family member each birthday and Christmas. I’ve begun telling people this year to stop getting them because I’ve hardly begun to fill the old ones, and probably won’t. The only books I can count on my family liking are those little, gifty books left by the register that have funny pictures of dogs in them alongside quotes.

  3. Samuel Sargent

      My girlfriend and I got each other books for Christmas this year. She simply picked things off of my BookMooch wishlist so there was no doubt that I wanted them and I got her the badass pink leatherbound Barnes & Noble exclusive Lewis Carroll collection. It has everything he ever wrote, including his math essays. She also got me books for Valentine’s Day (The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott) and for my birthday (Double Game by Sophie Calle.) Anyone else in my family would just get me Barnes & Noble cards because they didn’t know what I would like. (While I appreciate the cards, it’s a bit annoying considering I tend to be good at picking out very personal gifts for people. So for the last two years, I instituted a no presents at all policy for Christmas & my birthday, girlfriend and one sister who has similar interests and makes most of her presents excluded.)

      I make a point to buy books for my nieces for Christmas and their birthday. It’s pretty simple to get things they don’t have. I just buy them age appropriate classics, since their parents are illiterate fucks who would never buy anything more advanced than Harry Potter. (Not to slag on J.K. Rowlings, I was just at a wizard rock concert three days ago (and it was far less lame than I imagined.))

  4. Louis Scuderi

      If someone gives me a book with the intention of sharing a personal experience or something thing found meaning in, I try to accept it as a complement and take a stab at reading it. If someone gives me a book thoughtlessly because they’ve pinned me as a “reader” or “writer,” then I don’t feel as guilty about shelving/ebaying/regifting it.

      I don’t really “gift” books, I guess. If someone seems interested or I earnestly think they would thoroughly enjoy it (and they’re willing to read it) then I’ll gladly loan/give them a copy. I think people have a hard time differentiating between a half-assed gift and something that’s earnestly thought out, especially when it comes to books.

  5. Janey Smith

      Gave my six-year-old niece Selfish, Little by Peter Sotos. My brother hasn’t spoken to me since.

  6. Don

      I gave my chiropractor a copy of DFW’s story ‘Backbone’.  He said he liked it…

  7. chet

      my father just got divorced and is living on a small wooded lot overlooking a creek. ‘the summer he didn’t die’ is on its way right now. we’ll see.

  8. NLY

      I never give books to people, unless I’m acquiring it for them as we’re both in the store together. The only two ‘books’ I’ve ever been given were the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, and a Kindle. Nobody thinks ‘poet’ or ‘writer’ when they think of me so I avoid the issue.

  9. Mike Meginnis

      My family asks what I want and reads enough to guess reasonably well even if they don’t ask, and my wife is also a writer who knows my tastes inside out. So… No horror stories. Someone loaned me The Horse Whisperer once, and I was young enough I read the whole thing, waiting for it to not be garbage.

      I have found that giving a book as a gift, even if the other person wants the book and you know they do, does seem to magically reduce the odds they’ll read it — this happens in my case, also. I have asked for books and then gotten them and it’s like there’s a forcefield between me and those books.

  10. krysbeau

      I gave my ex Herodotus’ Histories, Pluatrch’s Life of Alexander, and Sun Tzu’s Art of War.  He liked ancient history, but I just liked him to be knowledgeable on things that both interested him and weren’t vidja games.  He ate them all up, so it was a gift for both of us I guess.

  11. postitbreakup

      I gave my former therapist DFW’s “The Depressed Person.” I’m pretty sure he never read it, though.

  12. Don

      My grandma gave me Christopher Hitchens’ autobiography.

  13. John Minichillo

      If you loan a book, it’s pretty much a gift they picked out for themselves.

      If you’re inclined to gift a book, the person reads, always good.

      If someone gifts you a book w/ the expectation that you must read it, that’s giving you homework.

      If you give someone something, it’s no longer yours and they can do whatever they want with it.

      People give us books because they don’t understand us. Writing is our identity But I’ve been a curmudgeon about popular books long enough I’m more likely to get an amazon card – which is perfect – thank you!

  14. nick

      gave my dad ‘the road’ for christmas. made sense. he read it really fast. seemed to enjoy it. i’ve been giving a book for christmas every year for a few years now and it ends up being the only book he reads all year.

  15. nick

      naked people

  16. William Owen

      I give people copies of Invisible Cities when they are going on long trips. I give copies of The Blueberry Girl to friends who’ve just had children. I’ve given the Collected Rilke translated by Galway Kinnell, The Name of the Wind, Winterson’s The Passion. The complete William Blake I gave as a wedding present. I donated the first volume of Promethea to Goddard’s library.

      I receive books 90% of the time I am given a gift

  17. Rebecca Ruth

      Worst: Received the 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women for my birthday a year ago. Just the pastels of the dust jacket made me wretch… I got a Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul Vibe off of it. I’ll donate I guess. No sense in regifting…