On giving books for Christmas…

The BookRiot website offers advice on buying books for the readers in your life. I have good idea – don’t do it.

If, as suggested, you analyse what these people like to read (and good luck with my collection!), there is a very good chance you’ll wind up buying a book they already have. Hell, I’ve just bought myself a book that I already have** but, having several thousand of the things (not counting the hundreds in my various Kindles), I guess I can forgive myself for forgetting one, but it does illustrate the high probability of buying an already-owned book.

**Elizabeth David’s An omelette and a glass of wine.

Personally – and no, this is not a hint – I’m happy with a book token/gift card. And it would not be spent on coffee, as the BookRiot contributor rather cynically suggests (given the cost of books, that would be a hell of a lot of coffee or a very low-value gift card!), but on books – probably, these days, ebooks as I’ve run out of space for dead-tree versions.

I’ve even invested in a Kindle Fire HD specifically for books that are colour image-heavy, and I’m extremely pleased with it. I’d previously bought an iPad 3, but as a reader it’s simply too heavy, despite the stunning battery life (which is why it’s heavy – about 90% of the internal space is taken up by the huge battery).

When it comes to foodie books – I don’t think of them as cookery books as I almost never use other people’s recipes – though I’m not above using them for ideas, I much prefer to devise my own, even though, on a couple of occasions, my “original” recipes have, on investigation, proven to be a reinvention of the wheel. Ah well – great minds and all that…

Anyway, with foodie books, if they’re in colour I download two copies, the colour version to my Fire, for reading, and a monochrome version on my Paperwhite 3G, for use in the kitchen should I get the urge to crib someone else’s recipe. Incidentally, the recipes posted in this blog are all devised by me  (even if in this case, what I assumed was an original, Spanish-inspired, dish turned out, months later, to be very close in style to a Spanish classic). By the way, it’s better without the rice, which tends to stick and burn too easily when reheated, and works as well with Napolina passata as it does with fresh tomatoes, for much less work.

But, as I said, great minds – there is very little in the main-stream culinary world that is truly original these days, hence the weird buggers with their obsession with “molecular”** hardware, or those serving moss and bugs, or crap stuck to bricks (or, increasingly, managing to convince people that queuing in the rain for two hours somehow adds value and desirability to a bloody burger – it’s meat in a bun – get over yourselves, ffs!), in a desperate quest for ever more elusive. “originality”. Here’s a tip, guys – just because you can do something it doesn’t mean you should.

**A misnomer if ever there was one – you’re cooks, guys, not nuclear physicists.

Bu I digress, a not entirely unknown phenomenon! I’m supposed to be talking about books, not food. In my home, though, the two are largely inseparable, but let’s try.

Anyone mooching through my collection for inspiration will be confronted by books ranging from backpacking (the original, long-distance walking, version, not the getting stoned, tattooed, and picking up complicated diseases in the Far East gap-year version), via Pratchett’s Discworld, Steven King’s almost entire fiction output (with the exception of Gerald’s Game and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, neither of which appeal, nor does The Shining sequel, Dr. Sleep – a prescient cat, wtf?), and John Sandford’s complete Prey and Virgil Flowers’ Minneapolis/greater Minnesota-set novels (and if Sandford has somehow escaped your notice, put that right immediately – you’re missing a real treat).

Not to mention a plethora of subjects ranging from religion/philosophy to cycling. Basically, if it piques my interest, I’ll read it, regardless of subject.

You’ll also find abandoned books, in multiples, bought in a spirit of optimism that was soon destroyed. The Gormenghast trilogy fell into that category – I found it too slow and way too boring, and always have, even when I was much younger and would occasionally drag them home from the library – god knows why. Yes, I know a lot of you won’t agree, I don’t care, this is about my taste in books, and the difficulty of buying for me.

Also languishing, mostly unread is a four-volume slip-cased set of the first books in the True Blood saga – abandoned as utterly unreadable. With the exception of Stephen Donaldson I doubt a multi-book contract has ever been awarded to a less-deserving writer.

I bought them (True Blood, that is), when I was very ill, a condition in which I’d generally read any old rubbish just for the distraction, but they defeated me. Oddly, in the TV series, the dialogue is reproduced verbatim, and it works very well. On the page, however, it’s grindingly clunky, and clearly depends upon the skill of the actors to imbue it with the life it so badly lacks.

And that’s it – of the thousands of books I own, and the many thousands more I’ve had from the library over the years (on average 4 a week from the age of 5 – I could read fluently at 4 – to around the age of 60, when I’d exhausted all the local library had to offer that interested me), those 7 are the only ones  I’ve found truly unreadable (plus a couple, god help me, from Donaldson – the most dire, derivative garbage I’ve ever read, and the only books I’ve ever thrown away in disgust or, even, at all).

Hell, I’ve even read The Lord of the Rings over 30 times, The Hobbit rather fewer, and the entire Game of Thrones series, so it’s not as if I have an aversion to long books or even longer series – those few books, above, really are deeply crap, by my standards.

So browse my shelves for ideas, by all means, but you’re likely to find Michael Moorcock’s High History of the Runestaff cheek by jowl with a comparative discussion of the major religions of the world (I’m an atheist – that doesn’t mean I have no interest in what others believe – I chalked up the highest scores in my entire school, for several years, in Religious Instruction for the same reason), and propped up by a treatise on cycle racing or trout fishing, or any of the above.

For me, at least, getting a book as a present doesn’t have the same deep-seated pleasure as buying it for myself, and by that I mean real, dead-tree, books – I find I can form no emotional attachment to ebooks, and new ones can linger, unread, for weeks, but with a real book I simply have to read it immediately, to savour the feel of the crisp, unsullied pages, and that clean, new-book smell – paper and ink, thread and glue (if you can find a traditionally-constructed hard-back these days!), speaks to my soul in the way e-ink never can.

And I have little doubt that it’s the same for any avid, and reasonably eclectic, reader, which is why I maintain that the worst thing you can buy for such people is another book. Odds are if they want it, they’ll already have it. Give them a book token/gift card – if they truly are bibliophiles it’ll be spent on a book, or books, have no worries on that score.

NB: There’s a small bookcase alongside my computer. Two shelves hold my old (up to 103 years), foodie book collection, but I can also see books by John Grisham, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Larry Niven, Mike Harding, Prosper Montagne, Stuart Maconie (Radio 2 presenter), Tolkien, Fritz Lieber, Escoffier, John Sandford, Bill Bryson, George RR Martin, plus a whole bunch on bread-making and its history, including one by a one-armed Jesuit.

The very best of luck in reaching a decision on what to buy me based on that lot – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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2 thoughts on “On giving books for Christmas…

  1. I totally get where you’re coming from here… I must make a caveat though! *Poor* bibliophiles – as I have only recently, for the first time in my life, ceased being – often *don’t* have all the books they’d like. Anything that could be borrowed, didn’t get bought by me – I’d buy something I couldn’t read any other way instead. So there are deeply treasured books, which I’ve read dozens of times, but of which I’ve never actually owned a copy, much though I’d like to. I’m slowly remedying that state of affairs now, as my husband and I enjoy our newfound prosperity while it lasts, but for many years, I used to make a list of books I wanted and my mother would administrate it for birthday and Christmas presents from everybody.

    • And so, of course, you actually got what you wanted – always a bonus. I, too, was poor – still am come to that – and while I own a couple of thousand books now, that pales into insignificance compared to the 13,000 plus I’ve had from the library over the years.

      Check out the Many Books website http://manybooks.net/authors.php It’s loaded with out-of-copyright ebook freebies and, even if you don’t have a Kindle or other reader, you can read them on your computer or smartphone by downloading the appropriate free Amazon app from their Kindle store (be sure to download books in Kindle format too). Well worth a look.

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