Gift is Poison in German

Given the nature of this forum, I suspect that most of us like to give or receive books during the upcoming holidays. I’ve written about my own joy as a child in discovering Tarzan and Hardy Boy novels under the Christmas Tree, or of devouring “Bomba the Jungle Boy” at Yuletime family get-togethers. But I don’t think we’ve ever addressed the issue of unwanted books.

Until I persuaded my family not to give me any books at all for Christmas or my birthday, I lived in fear of receiving sentimental best sellers, shiny non-books, and the kind of novels I would only read for a lot of money. Sometimes my prejudices are just that—prejudices. It’s possible that “The Kite-Runner,” or “Life of Pi,” or “The Help” or the entire oeuvre of James Patterson, Dean Koontz and any number of other hot authors are, in fact, quite wonderful. I’ll probably never know, since it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever read any of these titles or authors. They don’t interest me.

But it is rather tricky when one receives an unwanted, even repulsive, book as a gift. I always smile and say thank you, but feel rather sad that my relative or friend has spent hard cash for something I’ll be giving away. Of course, this is true of gifts in general. One always seems to guess wrong about the color, style, size or brand.

Still, are there current books, books of 2011, that you dread finding among your Chanukah presents or under the Christmas tree? Do you avoid this problem by giving out lists of the books you actively desire? Or do you make clear that you don’t want the biography of Steve Jobs or the latest volume of Donald Trump’s business advice or anything at all written by a presidential candidate? And how do you yourself avoid giving an unwanted book? Please share your thoughts and advice with the rest of us.

Michael Dirda

Read what others are saying