Attention loved ones: what I really want for Christmas, or any other gift-giving occasion, is – a book voucher (assuming the Greek writing holiday is off the table).
Some people turn up their noses at vouchers, thinking they reflect a lack of thought or originality. To me, a book voucher as a gift shows that someone really knows me.
Not only do I get a book that I would like, or better yet, love to read, I also get the pleasure of browsing through a bookstore, one of my favourite pastimes, and I get to buy whatever takes my fancy, absolutely guilt-free. (Unless my kids are along, in which case, I will suffer from selfish mum-guilt if I don’t buy them something to read as well – the downside of sharing a love of books with one’s progeny.) The gift-giver also experiences the satisfaction of knowing they have selected the perfect gift with minimal effort. Even wrapping is a breeze. It’s a win-win.
I do like receiving books as gifts. However, there are only a handful of people in my life who understand what I like to read. I’m an indiscriminate reader so I’ll usually read whatever someone gives me. But if you want me to really enjoy it, give me a voucher.
Which brings me to the topic of this blog: book recommendations. (Neat segue huh? No dear, the bit about the book vouchers wasn’t merely a device. It’s true. Go with the voucher. Or the Greek holiday.)
I’ve always been interested in the books other people recommend. Not just for the books themselves, but also for what the recommendation says about that person and what they think about me. With close friends, it’s pretty straight forward. You know what they like and they know what you like. With lesser known acquaintances, the book conversation is a revealing journey into an aspect of that person you might not encounter otherwise.
The forbidding matron who confesses over dessert that she’s quite the fan of Barbara Cartland. The gardener who quotes Melville. Your teenage daughter’s boyfriend who will only read Manga. This kind of information adds texture to the superficialities, provides valuable insight into their personalities and, let’s be honest, helps us to judge them as potential friends and, gulp, in-laws.
Even non-persons can be judged by their book recommendations. Take the Perth Writers Festival. The festival won’t be on until March but its clever marketing people have drawn together a ‘suggested reading’ list, from the works of its guest authors, for us to ponder in the meantime. Not only that, they’ve created sub-lists for reading groups, children, holiday reads, non-fiction and more.
And you know what? They are substantial and varied lists of worthy recommendations – even with the strict limitation of drawing only from festival authors. This reflects the strength of a line-up that includes international guests, Annie Proulx, Joanne Harris, Andrew O’Hagan, Damon Galgut, Lev Grossman, Yan Lianke, Armistead Maupin, Tariq Ali, as well as a host of acclaimed Australian authors which I’ll revisit in more detail in another post.
If you’re looking for something to read over the holiday period or want to draw some literary inspiration from a great author, you could do worse than check out these recommendations.
In fact, if you really don’t want to give me a voucher, any one of these books will do.