12 December 2013

To gift a book

Make Twain once said, "Books! I dunno if I ever told you this, but books are the greatest gift one person can give another."  I could not agree more with this sentiment.

No one who gives a book as a gift does so randomly, either a random book or to a random person (and certainly not both!).  No, giving a book is always a personal choice, either in the choice of the book that is given or in the choice of the person to whom the book is given (and often both).  Even when given as a gag gift, a book is chosen for the person; one isn't simply taken off of the shelf and handed over.  Indeed, the best book given is the one specifically chosen for a specific person, but such a choice is rarely easy because it is so deeply personal.

To give a book is to reveal something of the giver and of his relationship to the receiver.  No one who gives a book gifts a book he does not enjoy himself.  What would be the point?  The choice of the book that is given reveals more than the givers interests - sports, art, history, theology, trivia, etc.; it reveals something about his personality, about what he holds dear and what he deems important, important and dear enough to share.

Books given for particularly important occasions - such as Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, etc. - are usually given not because they are especially useful but because they have made an impact on the one who gives the book.  In the choice of a gifted book, something of the giver's soul is revealed and the giver makes himself somewhat vulnerable in this action.  He opens himself up to the one to whom he gives the book and quietly opens the way for a conversation about what he values most.

At the same time, the choice of the person to whom a book is given often says, with more or fewer words, that the giver has found in the receiver something of a kindred spirit, one who is inspired by the same interests and holds the same things dear.  To give a book to another is recognize a bond of friendship that is shared, or at least to recognize the potential for such a bond to develop.  Hence Voltaire's quip that "only your friends steal your books."

Difficult and risky as it is, this Christmas why not give the gift of a book?  Make it personal, and make it matter.  What book has molded, changed, or inspired you?  Let it do the same for another. If you do, your books may not be stolen.

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