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Books as gifts for Christmas and New Year

  |   Books

Book hanging

As we enter the holiday season, I would consider books as being the best gifts. As my friend and owner of Kepler’s Bookstore in Menlo-Park (California), Praveen Madan told me, “In the book-selling business, there are only two seasons – December and the rest.”

Book sales peak in December because many people buy books as Christmas and New Year gifts. In Iceland, there is a national tradition called Jolabokaflod, or the ‘Christmas Book Flood’.

It involves giving and unwrapping new books on Christmas Eve, cuddling with loved ones, and reading late into the night. As Neil Gaiman said, “Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world.”

With a few exceptions, books are the only gifts I have given. To my wife’s dismay, even our wedding gifts have been books! Family and friends who are aware of my book reading/buying habits have often gifted me some unique and special books.

I spent almost a decade collecting the 50 best books on cricket, a list suggested by Ramachandra Guha in his article ‘An Addict’s Archive’. Many on the list were rare and out of print. I waited for them to pop up in local bookstores and after chasing them relentlessly, I managed to get 49 of the 50 books. One day, a colleague of mine walked into my office with a gift-wrapped book.

When I opened it I found the 50th book (The Great Australian Book of Cricket Stories by Ken Piesse) that completed my collection!

On another occasion, my friend Nisha gifted me a rare copy of Walter Isaacson’s special edition of Einstein: The Life of a Genius. While it was neither signed nor inscribed, it was a collector’s copy. When I met Walter at a book event I got it signed too!

One of my most cherished moments was receiving a book gift from a complete stranger. While browsing at Oxford Bookstore in Bengaluru a few years ago, a youngish guy surprised me by gifting me a book titled Seven Secrets of Inspired Leaders. He said he had heard my speech at the School of Inspired Leadership (SOIL, Gurgaon) where he’d studied, and wanted to gift me the book in gratitude. That book still holds a special place for me.

Often, it is the carefully thought-out, inscribed message that makes a book more memorable. After I recently spoke at the Autism After 21 event in Washington DC, the author of Autism Uncensored, Whitney Ellenby, gave me a copy of her book in which she wrote: “You just broke my heart and healed it again…I hope you will listen to my uncensored voice because you walk in the middle of the story.” Whitney, a champion for the autism community, has now become a dear friend.

However, the book gift that touched me the most was when my fellow bibliophile friend Pradeep Sebastian gave his most precious gift to me – a copy of Keepers signed by Russell H Greenan. The book Silence of the Lambs apparently has echoes of Greenan’s book. Signed on March 6, 2006, the inscribed message read “I flatter myself by thinking that, if I had not written this story, Mr Harris would not have written Silence of the Lambs. Perhaps, you too will see a similarity”. Pradeep and Russell had developed a friendship and he had gifted the book to him. I someday hope to be able to pay Pradeep back with something equally rare and personal.

Books are intimate possessions, each with a unique story that lives on in us. When someone asked me why I don’t read on a Kindle, my response was “How do you get a personalised copy on a Kindle?”

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