Thursday, December 21, 2006

Give Books

”Do give books - religious or otherwise - for Christmas. They're never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.”
- Lenore Hershey

I know I don’t write about them often, but I’m a little obsessed with books. AND they make excellent gifts. My grandmother used to order Folio Society books for me every Christmas. They are beautifully bound volumes. Sometimes she sent classics but also a lot of odd interesting selections - my favorite being a reproduction of a Medieval Bestiary with gorgeous illustrations and bizarre descriptions of animals (including a unicorn and manticore - those monks had some wacky ideas).

The gift of a particularly fine book stays with me longer than any other gift. My parents... or, ahem, Santa - gave me an intricately bound collection of Jane Austen’s work a while back, a favorite gem in my personal library. Years ago, I was thrilled when a boyfriend gave me a copy of the enormous Harlan Ellison 50 year retrospective collection (the fact that he remembered my favorite author was reason for much rejoicing on my part). An old roommate and close friend (the Will to my Grace) gave me a lush 4 inch thick art history tome packed with full color reproductions that will always hold a prized place of my shelf. I think of him every time I pick it up. Most recent is a clever book on knitting ("Domiknitrix: Whip Your Knitting into Shape" - haha!) I just received yesterday in the mail from one of my oldest and dearest friends. Books are absolutely the perfect gift, gifts I keep forever.

I have started collecting late 19th and early 20th century books, particularly anything written by women or for the female reader. I love buying old books - The attention given to the binding, the old illustrated volumes (in which the illustrations have sometimes actually been pasted onto the page by hand), the notes made by some past owner in the margins, the little pieces of paper one finds slipped in between the pages. Each one is a treasure both because affordable old books are usually obscure, out of print works that you might never have otherwise seen and because they each have little bits of their history attached to them, unique unto that particular book.

I sometimes go online and browse the rare book supplier websites. Illustrated first editions for thousands of dollars - things I will never own but can certainly dream of. There are companies that do nothing but compile impressive libraries for those who can afford it - or who are contracted to locate particularly rare or unusual volumes. I find that fascinating.

Not everyone enjoys a good read, but almost everyone who doesn’t will still appreciate a book of humor, a how-to book that relates to some particular interest or a picture book of a favorite destination or subject. And generally people keep books, assuring you that your gift will stay a part of their home for many years to come. A well-chosen book often won’t cost any more than a bottle of cologne or one of those pre-made baskets of scented lotions and whatnot. Pre-packaged toiletry gifts say, “I know you are male or female.” Seriously. That’s about it.

A book can say, “I know and appreciate who you are.”

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