Like most voracious readers, I have to be frugal with my purchases—so while most of the books I buy as gifts are new, most of the books I buy for myself are used. I enjoy the idea that these books have lived several lives, moving from one place and one person to another before they get to me.
Even better is when I feel I sort of know my virtual reading family thanks to names written on flyleaves or bookplates—Kindrick Dyer, Joni Dakon, Syvia H. Malcolm, Art Flynn—these mysterious people and many more have shared their books with me over the years (and often their marginal notes too). On the other hand, finding a book with a personal inscription can be unsettling. “To Sheila, Christmas 1974, Love, Mom.” “5/5/66—To Jim with Love, Bette.” Like going to a rummage sale and discovering a donated photo album with all the family pictures intact, it’s a mystery that leaves me a little lost.
It made me wonder how many of the books I’d inscribed and gifted now fill the shelves of various thrift stores on the eastern seaboard. I’ve given hundreds of books over the years, most with notes of heartfelt sentiment, and while I hardly expect every recipient to hang onto these books forever, I thought that this year I’d think a little harder about my choices. What books could I give that won’t end up tossed into the Goodwill bin a week into the New Year? Or even better—what book could I give a friend that she’d then pass on to another friend, like an ever-mobile library where we all are paying it forward with books?
I decided to poll friends and family over which books they’ve given (or plan to give) as gifts, as well as the all-important why. I had only one rule—I wouldn’t ask the opinion of any writers, simply because we love books with an intensity that can become a little myopic when it comes to recommendations. I ended up with a delightfully broad selection of books from a delightfully broad cast of characters. I hope you’ll find something below to share with someone this season or to read yourselves. If not, please make your own recommendations in the comments!
And finally, remember that no matter what books you might choose to buy, everything goes better with a Ploughshares subscription . . .