On my ninth birthday my grandfather gave to me a copy of At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald. I chiefly remember it because less than a month later I went off to boarding school and that book and my teddy bear (8 years old) seemed to be the only things that remained to me from my former life. No matter that the illustrations by Arthur Hughes were scary and the hero and his horse are both called Diamond, it was a comforting book to me.
This post focuses on books that have been important presents.
Gift for friends
The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane (2017)
I went through a phase of giving this book to many of my friends who I knew to be readers. It’s a beautiful little book with a lovely message and does what it says. It is a celebration of the gifts of giving, and the gifts that come from books and reading. It speaks of transformative gifts from and to other readers. Robert Macfarlane lists five books that he gives away again and again:
- Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- A Time of Gifts by Leigh Fermor
- The Peregrine by JA Baker
- The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd
I gave this little book to a friend. Soon after she gave me a copy of the Nan Shepherd. See what he means?
Holloway by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards (2014)
This too is a delightful book, full of the pleasures of sunken paths and exploring these features with friends in Dorset. It’s the best kind of nature writing for it invites you right in. There are a few holloways around me in Devon that should be investigated.
The Gift by Lewis Hyde (1983)
Gifts can be talents, and this book is a celebration of creative work. Lewis Hyde suggests improved ways of valuing and circulating creative work in society. The Theory of Gifts leads him to some socially transformative ideas. A friend of mine says it is a book she often gives people, especially writers.
The Golden Treasury of English Verse edited by Francis Turner Palgrave (1861)
Poetry books can make good presents for people you know. My penfriend on Death Row in Potosi, Missouri, USA and I wrote about our favourite poems. Before they banned gifts of books, I sent him a copy of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of English Verse. We shared the discovery of many verses. (And yes, he was executed).
Better Fetch a Chair by me (2018)
Over the years I have given away copies of books I have written, or contributed to. (Note to potential recipients: contrary to the popular idea writers do not get hundreds of free or cheap copies for distribution. They need the income from royalties anyway.).
Last Christmas I gave copies to friends and relations of my recently published collection of short stories: Better Fetch a Chair. It didn’t help the sales, see above, but I got a great deal of positive feedback. And copies are still available at £5 + £1 p+p. Just email me if you want a copy: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read an account of publishing the book on a post from January 2019: My New Bookish Project.
And I give lots of people book tokens. They can choose a book they want, at the time they want.
And I give lots of people reverse book tokens, which means that other people who really need books are provided with them by Book Aid International. You can find out more on their website: https://bookaid.org
Gifts for me
And this Christmas I was given some wonderful books:
Circe by Madeline Miller. I enjoyed The Song of Achilles. Circe was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019. I expect it to be a good read.
Call them by their True Names by Rebecca Solnit. A collection of essays by an American writer of great quality and thoughtfulness. How Bookish People can have Hope in Dark Days was a post I wrote a few years ago.
Judith Kerr by Joanna Carey. These last two were from my daughter who knows a thing or two about me, and with whom I shared the tiger who came to tea. Judith Kerr died in May.
Best Books for …
This was my second post in an ad hoc series which will all begin The best book for … Some other ideas are … reading in translation; … recommending to book groups; … taking on holiday; … when I am ill in bed; and so on. The first was The Best Books for … changing my life in December 2019.
Over to you
So what titles would you add to the possibilities of the best books for giving?