by Lee Cross
Books as presents… for me it’s a real grey area of social interaction, not quite on the same level as giving a stranger a sex toy but certainly something worth an extra minutes thought. They’re both, after a fashion, challenges – “Well, what do you think about that? “Can you handle it?? I really enjoyed that big bastard”.
The first hurdle is understanding that not everyone likes books as much as you do. That’s not a bad thing, far from it. We bookish types always tend towards the introverted and could do with branching out into social pursuits; we just don’t want to. Reading takes up a lot of time, we’re fine with that (well, I am), it’s why we can sit comfortably in a crowded canteen quietly stealing our lunch hours, just to get a bit of reading done.
Not everyone has that sort of dedication. I think of Catch-22, which is one of my favourite ever novels (perhaps the funniest I’ve read) – I’m not sure if I would ever have been able to read if it wasn’t for the appalling service offered by British Rail (I’m talking way back when, which isn’t to say that the service has improved, I just left the country), I learnt how to read over the hump and why it was worth it.
Fifteen years later and I’ve done more dry humping (I might as well stick with the sexual allusions) than I care to remember and know that those moments of apparent tedium are usually the foundation on which the great novels are built… but normal people don’t necessarily have the same type of determination.
I once gave a friend The Fountainhead by Any Rand, absolutely convinced that it was masterpiece and they would love it…. …..so, she didn’t… ‘its too long’…’it’s too boring’…’why does it go on so much’… was the jist of the discussion.
For the record she is an exceptional mix of smart, determined and multi-lingual – I’m not in any way implying that she didn’t understand the book; she just didn’t enjoy it.
That one incident completely changed the way I gift books to people… I have general rules now:
(1) 400 pages max. Anything past that and the sheer size just puts people off (insert your own sex gag here – which I suppose always qualifies if you are feeling unimaginative).
(2) No translations. English speakers like to see English looking name on a front cover – Arturo Perez-Reverte is a great author, who writes really accessible novels, but a lot of people are so intimated by the name that they barely read beyond the hyphen.
(3) TV / Movie novels (when possible). Every telly addict loves to hold the, “have you read the book?” card, over their fellows. It’s more than that though, they know where the story is going and know they’re going to love it (I mean hopefully, right – otherwise we’re talking about a really shite present).
(4) Go paperback. Too many people view hardbacks as trophies, something to have and hold… books should read and loved (or loathed), not left on shelves, unmolested, like some fucking antique.
That’s my general guide for buying books… and sex toys too I guess… careful now.
[Note: I receive a lot of books as presents, and I love them all. I’d love to say I read them all, just I’d love to say I enjoyed them all… seriously I’d love to say that.]