The gift of books.


There’s no better gift than a book.

We’ll spend millions this holiday season on things like jewelry, data-hungry virtual assistant devices, and even luxury cars (if the TV commercials are to be believed), and that’s just for the adults. Let’s not forget the kids, most of whom won’t be happy with anything less than a metric ton of cheap, plastic toys or blinking, noisy gadgets. If you buy into the whole holiday thing, this is your reality, risking the accrual of debt for a bunch of useless crap so the people in your life will be assured, at least for another year, that you care about them.

Might I suggest you consider giving everyone on your list a book instead?

A book is a wonderful thing. Cheap, portable, and powerful, every book is a gateway to another world, a personal teleporter that can fit on a nightstand. A book carries the potential to excite, to inform, to change someone’s life. Many of us, the so-called “book lovers,” already know this. And we should all be book lovers. In Iceland, they have a tradition called Jolabokaflod, which translates to “Christmas Book Flood.” They’ll give each other books on Christmas Eve and spend the evening reading. It sounds like paradise.

These days, books can be almost intangible, consisting of nothing more than a bunch of zeroes and ones residing in the ether. I’m referring to ebooks here, and thought they sound mystical, they are every bit as powerful as their paper-filled cousins. Of course, some people still prefer the feel of a paper book, and that’s okay. I personally have no preference. My iPad Mini (which replaced my first-generation Nook) feels just as comfortable in my hand as a mass-market paperback. To me, only the words themselves matter, and I don’t much care how those words get to my retinas. I will admit that ebooks can be more convenient than paper books. You can fit thousands of ebooks on a single device and carry them with you. Can’t beat that.

If you want to get the people in your life books this holiday season, you could purchase gift cards from iTunes or Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Sounds easy, right? But it’s so impersonal, handing someone a gift card. Sometimes it’s not even a card, it’s just an email with a gift card code, a string of gibberish. Whatever meaningfulness is left in modern-day gift-giving, the gift card surely represents the exact opposite. When you give someone a gift card, you’re saying “I care, but only a little.”

No, the people in your life are worth more than that (I’m assuming). So why not get them something personal? And why not make it a book?

Be warned: if you’re buying books for people who aren’t already readers, you may get a few odd looks when they see what you’ve given them. Especially the kids, who equate books with the forced learning we make them endure throughout their childhood and only really wanted a distraction from all that. We aren’t born readers, we become readers, and sometimes all we need is to be exposed to it. With a bit of cleverness, you can choose a book that has the ability to wake a person up to the magic of books, something you know the recipient would love or one that means something to you. You have the opportunity to turn someone into a book lover. You MUST take that chance. Ignore the looks of disgust.

If you’ve already got book lovers on your list, there’s a different sort of opportunity here. Maybe there’s a book that you DESPERATELY want to discuss with a friend, but they’ve been putting off reading it. Gifting them a copy would at least give you a bit of power to guilt them into finally picking it up. Plus it’s a nice thing to do.

You can also stretch your dollars by buying books instead of gift cards. Let’s say the average cost of a paperback book is $8 (it probably isn’t, but let’s say it is). You could buy a gift card for that amount, so the recipient can (maybe) buy themselves a book, but we never really do that, do we? We get one with a nice, round number on it, like $25. By gifting a book, you’re still giving a gift, but it doesn’t cost you so much. Books are cheap.

And in many cases, ebooks are even cheaper. It does get a bit tricky, buying a specific ebook instead of a gift card. Not every retailer offers that capability. Amazon does, as does Barnes and Noble, but both only provide a link that gets emailed to the recipient. If you’d like to go this route, make sure you do your homework and find out which sort of device your intended recipient has. If they have, for example, a Kindle, buy your ebook from Amazon. If it’s a Nook, buy it from Barnes and Noble. If it’s an iPad, they can get an app for either Amazon or Nook books, so either will do (though if they don’t already have an account with Amazon or Barnes and Noble, they’ll need to create one). They’ll get an email with the ebook redemption link, which is sort of like sending a gift card, but at least the link will be for something. Yes, it lacks the theater of handing someone a wrapped present that you can then watch them tear open, but it’s still a great gift.

So there you have it. This is my plea to the world: buy more books. You can even buy mine, if you like. Whatever you do, however you celebrate, try to enjoy yourself this holiday season, and don’t let yourself go broke.

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