A second part to last night’s entry: books as gifts. Some people might think of getting a book as a gift about as exciting as when you’re a kid and you get clothes as a gift (the dreaded sound of fabric moving around inside a wrapped gift box), but as an adult, getting a good book can actually be a very sweet thing. Or at least a very intimate thing. Yes, of course, like Jamal’s unexpected gift at an unexpected time in Finding Forrester, the gift of a rare or old book that you’re already quite familiar with is a great thing. And as you hold those delicately bound pages in your hands and run your fingers over a well-worn cover, you can think back on how much the content of those pages mean to you and you can imagine how many other people were able to enjoy the same experience each in their own way, at their own time through the book you’re now holding. The book is no longer just a bunch of pages with a story. It’s an historical artifact that carries not only the story within its pages, but the story of it’s own life as it passes from owner to owner.
But a book doesn’t have to be rare or old or even hardcover to be a great gift. If it’s something you’ve already mentioned before, when someone gives you a book, it shows that he remembers. He noticed. Whether it be a passing statement of “oh, I want to read that new book that just came out,” or a long diatribe on the wonders of a particular series: “God, I remember how much I loved the Chronicles of Narnia and got lost within it’s pages for hours…” He was paying attention and that’s what’s special. But that’s true for any gift, I suppose.
However, if it’s a book your gift-giver has chosen for you, loves himself and just insists that you read it, no matter how skeptical you are, you should embrace it and realize that if your gift-giver is as much a lover of books as you are, this gift is not just a $5 paperback (or the $25 hardcover, for those who are extravagant). It’s an attempt to give part of himself. He wants to share the experience you can get from reading those few hundred pages because it was special to him and he wants it to be special to you and he wants to have been the one who made that experience possible. (In some ways, it’s really quite sexual.) And if you love that book just as much as he does, you can keep it on your shelf and it will be a constant reminder of who brought you to that little sliver of experience that’s shaped you somehow, much like how that person probably went on to shape you and influence your life in other ways. For better or for worse.
A guy I was once involved with on and off for years during a very critical portion of my developmental years gave me two books: a copy of Cat’s Cradle that was never returned to whatever public library it came from and a copy of A Clockwork Orange (store purchased, I believe). Now, if you’ve read either one of these books, you can imagine how disturbing, or at least eye-opening, they might be for, say, a 13 to 15-year-old girl. And their darkness and strangeness captured that relationship pretty well and in the same way that relationship opened up my eyes to many things as a young woman, those books were the beginning of a serious trek onto more Vonnegut, more dark humor, more dark subject matter, more dark experiences… just more. I have to say that period of my life shaped me in a lot of ways today, but ironically enough, while I have copies of those books sitting on my shelf right now (right next to each other), they are not the original ones I received as gifts so many years ago. Instead, they have been lost in the constant moving around since then, from dorm room to dorm room, from apartment to apartment, and have been replaced with fresh copies from the store without the inscriptions in the inside covers to mock me. Those books have been lost along the way in the same way that boy/man was lost along the way, but the experiences still hold on somehow. If they didn’t, why would I be telling this story in the first place? I rarely ever look at those books compared to all of my other ones, but they’re always there, kept safe and sound as a key part of the background of my home and my life.
So, next time someone buys you a mass market paperback, don’t think of it as a cheap gift or some kind of reading assignment, but as a gift of potential experience passed from your gift-giver to you so that you might share something special. Just between the two of you.