Romance as a Gift

I have a few rules for gift giving, the first being that I put a good amount of thought into the gift I give, and the second that I do not ever, EVER give someone something that suggests they need improvement, or that there is something wrong with them. I don’t like gifts that might possibly hurt feelings, and I’m a big fan of the non-tschotske gift, because gifts that ultimately take up space and require dusting are not necessarily gifts I enjoy as a recipient.

I love experience gifts, too – for Hubby’s birthday one year I drafted an itinerary of all things he loves, from donuts for breakfast to baseball games (and the only team at home that day was a few hours away, so I incorporated driving on country roads in our convertible as part of the gift) to good food and wine at dinner that evening. I packed a change of clothes and surprised him with the dinner, if I remember correctly.

Either way, I love gift giving, even when the budget is tight and the options are limited. So Tuesday’s Publisher’s Lunch caught my eye as they discussed Random House’s new campaign to promote books as holiday gifts this year. In a mandate from CEO Markus Dohle, a task force (NOOOOOOO NOT A TASK FORCE NOOOOOOOOO!) was formed to create the “got milk campaign for books,” encouraging buyers to give books as gifts this year.

The ad campaign will reach the NYT Book Review, the New Yorker, and a crapload of other places, including Facebook and YouTube.

Smart, thinks Sarah. Very smart. But hmm. Book giving, as we discussed here when I brought up books that provide comfort and respite from difficult times, can be very challenging if one doesn’t know the taste of the gift recipient. As Jennifer Crusie once said to me during an interview for The Book (which isn’t due out until April 2009 so alas, I can’t plug our book as The Perfect Gift unless you’re buying for Mother’s Day. Or, “Your Mother” Day) there are some readers who absolutely cannot suspend disbelief for some circumstances in a romance. Some readers will not stand for paranormal activity, and others can’t handle historical romance for other reasons, but the point is apt: it can be tough to pick the right book, let alone the right romance for someone if you don’t know them well. You have to know what plots they are willing to suspend disbelief for, and which they are not. I don’t know that much about many of the people on my gift list, really, and their grasp and rejection of various realities and fictional worlds is certainly not part of my getting-to-know-you questioning.

I have bought books with varying levels of success for people in my world, including Hubby who is a rather picky reader, and my father who only likes books that weigh about 5 lbs. and are about the intricate minutiae of dead people, preferably Civil War generals. But if I were to apply Random House’s “Books = gifts” campaign to the romance genre, what books would I pick? Are there guaranteed romances that make great gifts for people, from those you know intimately to those you work with? Hell, can you buy a romance for people you work with or is that sexual harassment given the likelihood of nookification within the cover?

Plus there’s the added danger of the attitude toward romance. Even the fans of another much-maligned genre whip out their battering rod of condescension when examining romance within the sci-fi genre, so giving another person a romance novel as a gift might backfire in a multitude of ways – most of which will reveal more about the recipient than the gifter, if you ask me. (Note to io9: people whose genre is dismissed as a house built of Spock ears shouldn’t throw stones. Just sayin’.)

I can think of specific people whom I would happily mail a romance as a gift, among them my sister, who reads romance, and several of my friends, who read it as well.

But while I’ve been sitting here pondering which romance novels I’d give as gifts to people who may not read romance, I’ve come back again and again to the same thought. I’d be more likely to give bookstore gift certificates than actual books, allowing the recipient a true blissful experience, more potent than one of those massages with the hot flat rocks: the gift of guilt-free book shopping, book selecting, and book owning.

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  1. 1
    Marianne McA says:

    I dislike being given books – I feel I ought to read them, which is enough to make me not want to read them.
    My mum did something different for my birthday – bought me replacement copies of books I had that were falling to bits. I thought that was nice.

  2. 2

    I prefer the gift certificate both ways – to give and to receive. Unless you know the person really well it can be very tricky to pick out just the right book for them, and one does want them to enjoy their present.

    (I went out on a limb last year and bought my dad the first season of Deadwood – he ended up buying himself the seasons 2 & 3. Phew!)

  3. 3
    ms bookjunkie says:

    My dad gave me a book for Christmas two years ago, and I’m still kicking myself for not exchanging it. (There was nothing in the bookstore I wanted at the time but I should have exchanged it for a gift certificate and tried again later.) I still haven’t read it -I think it’s ‘literature’ or ‘women’s lit’, whatever, something ‘respectable’ anyway- because it just doesn’t grab me. (Anyway, he said he just walked into a bookstore and asked for something for his daughter. He could have asked for a romance, he knows I read romance except he doesn’t approve… So I think they pretty much gave him whatever book was on the big display table. Grrr!) The book is lying around annoying me and I have this sense of obligation to keep it, or at least read it before I dump it.

    This is the reason my brother and I just give each other cash for presents. We live far apart, our tastes in literature differ and we both hate being bogged down by THINGS that make moving around the country (and the globe) difficult. With cash there is none of the headache that develops from trying to find the perfect gift and no need to mail anything except maybe a card and at Christmas our presents just cancel each other out. (I know, I’m lazy! *eyeroll*)

    ever99: No, not even close!

  4. 4
    rooruu says:

    The only romances I’ve given as presents would be Outlander/Cross Stitch (Gabaldon) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Shaffer) and then with care.

    Books for kids?  Yup, sure.  Sometimes the books (I have a not quite high school boy who knows that I will buy him the next Skulduggery Pleasant novel INSTANTLY it comes out as his birthday present.  Worked this year, will work again next year when the next one’s due) and sometimes the book gift cert, because kids like choice and I like giving them books, one way or another. ((If you haven’t come across Skulduggery Pleasant yet, he’s a wisecracking detective who’s a skeleton in Dublin, with a strong minded girl sidekick.  Great funny stuff, and the Rupert Degas audio books are priceless).

    Other books?  If I’m confident it’s what the recipient wants.

    For me?  I’d much rather have the book token/book gift certificate, not only for the choice being mine (I’m not so easy to buy for), but for the savouring of a book token and choice and oooo what might I buy… as you say, the blissful experience.

  5. 5
    rooruu says:

    Oh, and the funniest book I ever got as a present was from a young male colleague who got my name in a Secret Santa draw (so you get/give one present from your colleagues).  He told me proudly it was the first book he’d ever bought (early twenties, university educated, and he’d never bought a book???  Maybe he meant fiction.  I hope). 

    How did he pick it?  He read the back of several books until he came to one he didn’t understand at all, and he knew (he said beaming with sincerity) that it would be just right for me.  I can’t remember what it was – I never read it, as it wasn’t my cup of tea at all.  But I’ll never forget how proud he was of himself.  He then bought a book for his mother, he said (as though this should be rewarded with a gold star), it was MUCH easier than he’d thought, to buy a book.  He was on a roll!

    I hope he still feels confident to buy books.

  6. 6
    Mary Beth Miller says:

    Books are tricky business. I read a lot. A LOT. I don’t think anyone could keep up with what I am reading now and what I’ve already read. The only books that are safe for someone to get me would be large hardcover history books about WWI and/or WWII, and anything about ancient history. So I prefer gift cards. Some weeks I am on a sci-fi kick and at other times it’s romance or maybe erotica. Hell- I don’t even know what I am going to get when I am at the bookstore, how can anyone else hope to know what I am in the mood for? I, too, agree with the wonderfulness of a gift card, the unlimited (or $20 limit) potential, the choices, the pretty gift card illustration…*sigh*.

    As far as buying books there are only 3-4 people I feel safe buying books for- my two girls, my sister, and my ex-father-in-law. I make it a point to know what they are reading, what authors they like, what new title they are waiting for to come out. And unlike me the above people don’t go to the bookstore weekly so I can be pretty sure they didn’t already pop out and get the book I have wrapped and waiting when I wasn’t looking.

    As an aside can I say I totally LOVE that my oldest girl (age 23) and I can swap books and recommend stuff to each other without having to worry about the content? I LOVE it!

  7. 7
    GrowlyCub says:

    I didn’t post on the healing book thread, but I feel very strongly that giing books is not a really good idea overall.  Even with folks who have compatible tastes you can love a book and your friends hate it.

    I’m with the gift certificate all the way, just don’t do a B&N;one.

    I’ve had one since mid-Sept and between B&N;‘s higher prices and their lousy, LOUSY brick and mortar stores, I have 20 bucks in book money that I have not been able to spend, try as I might. [I live far, far away from any bookstores, and on two recent attempts to visit/buy at B&N;, I found one store half empty as in vast empty areas only adorned by carpet, no shelving, no books, and the other one not there at all any longer].

    I keep looking for books online, but when the price is 2-3 dollars higher at B&N;than at Bamm.com, I just cannot get myself to order even though I’m not spending my own money…

    Back to the point.  I’m all for gift certificates.  I’ve pretty much hated every book ever given to me unless I had sent the giver a specific title and author beforehand.

  8. 8
    Jacquilynne says:

    My family pretty much all buys books for each other every year for Christmas. Maybe it’s because we’re family (though we don’t exactly see each other all the time), but it never seems to be anywhere near as hard as this is making it out to be.

    We do occasionally run into the problem of knowing each other’s taste a little too well, though. My mom and I bought each other the same book one year (it was a Penny Vincenzi novel, I bought it for her, because she likes Vincenzi, and she appreciates that they are long and thus good value for the price; she bought it for me because she knows I like Vincenzi, and it was long and thus good value for the price), and my brother bought her a book she already had another year.

  9. 9
    katiebabs says:

    The best gift I can receive for the holidays is a gift card to B&N;or Borders. I think gift cards to one of these stores are great because not only are there books to buy but tons of other things I really do not need.

  10. 10

    I always tell my dear husband he can either give me fine jewelry, preferably dripping with diamonds, or book gift certificates.  It makes his life much easier.

  11. 11
    Aubrey says:

    Giving and receiving books can be tricky. I love getting gift cards for books—Amazon and Books A Million especially (I’m not a fan of B&N;, mainly because our local one seems to turn up it’s nose at romance and gives us no love whatsoever on their shelves). However, the smart folks who know me know that they should just go check my Amazon.com Wish List if they’re thinking about getting me a book. ;-)

  12. 12
    shaunee says:

    My dad has been buying me books for Christmas/birthdays since forever.  Eight years old and what did I want? the three-story super bionic townhouse to go with my bionic woman doll.  Dad got me a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works (just the plays, actually).  Can you believe I loved that thing (not at first obviously, but once I had the chance to investigate it thoroughly)?  The cover was all embossed and flowery with gold and a million different colors and it was huge!  Bigger than the phone book, which made me feel ridiculously important.  Plus (and this is the best part) before each play was a translation of sorts:  no verse, just every day English along the once-upon-a-time lines.  I LOVED this thing.  Read every play a million kazillion times and then used the “translations” to make my way through the original versions.

    He’s given me some sort of book every year since.  Never romance because, like someone posted earlier, my dad hates that I read romance, but art books (gorgeous, huge, expensive art books that he got on super duper extra special mega sale because the 2-foot (literally) cover was slightly damaged), books on book lovers, books on the history of ballet, books on mythology.

    He didn’t know it then, but he was totally preping me to be a writer.

    Buying actual romance is definitely harder and generally I’d say a gift certificate is the way to go.  Although, this one time my dad and I went to the bookstore and he let me walk through the store with one of those basket things and fill it up.  No birthday, no Christmas, just cuz.  I squealed and bounced through the aisles of Barnes & Noble like an idiot.  After, we had martinis.

    Good day.  Wouldn’t mind that as a Christmas prize.

  13. 13
    Julianna says:

    Sigh.  I don’t give books as gifts very often, for all the reasons listed above, but I’m thinking of changing that policy.

    So many of my favourite books were gifts!  And yes, there are usually a couple dozen volumes I’m lusting after, but do you remember how exciting it can be to realise that you absolutely adore something you wouldn’t have bought for yourself? 

    Yes, you have to endure a few misses, but frankly, in my recent purge of my shelves I think I got rid of more books I’d bought for myself than gifts.

  14. 14
    tracykitn says:

    I have to second Aubrey—Amazon.com Wish List.  Also, I think you can set up wish lists at B&N;and Borders online, and send them to your friends. And most of my friends have Amazon Wish Lists.

  15. 15
    Marsha says:

    I buy books for people only when I 1) have a good – really good – idea of what they like and 2) know for sure that they don’t already have what I’m thinking of buying.

    My mom, for example, loves those bookstore/knitting club/needlepoint/cooking mysteries.  It’s not hard to start her on a new series with the purchase of three or four because there seems to be an unending supply of such books (when they come with cross-stitch patterns or recipes she’s doubly happy).  A friend adores those Highland warrior romances – ditto on how easy it is to start her on a new series.  They may not end up as her faves ever but at least I’m assured of providing her some interesting hours of entertainment and if she ends up lurving them so much the better.  I wouldn’t go the new series route every year, but it’s fun to do once in a while and they is to buy the first several at a go.

    To help find new authors in a given genre I use Literature Map (http://www.literature-map.com – I *think*).  It’s a very useful tool for finding authors and books for these kinds of situations.

  16. 16
    Bev Stephans says:

    Book gift certificates all the way.  They are always the right color and hopefully the right size.

  17. 17
    Suze says:

    Giving books is problematical.  I have no problem dumping my purge cast-offs on my friends, because it’s no loss to either of us if they don’t like them, and we have some great conversations about what we liked and didn’t like and why.

    If you want to give books (any kind of coffee-tables books, I think), gift cards are really the only way to go.

    The Christmas I was 14, I got two sets of McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy, and two sets of the first cycle of the Belgariad.  One of the returns was not a happy experience, due to the grouchy old bag who thought that I had somehow read the (still shrink-wrapped) box set and was trying to pull a fast one on her.

    You know what would be cool?  Having an e-mail pop up in my box, much like the ones I get when friends send e-cards, that tells me somebody has bought me an e-book, and I just need to click on the link to select one to download.

    The link would bring me to a selection of books in the price range that was bought, so I could maintain the fiction that I don’t know how much my friend spent on me.

    Books are such an intimate experience.  Buying somebody a random romance because they like romances is like giving somebody a ham because you know they like meat.  No, it’s like giving somebody herring in aspic because you know they like Jello, and they like fish, so the two together must be FABOO!

  18. 18
    Silver James says:

    We’ve always given books within the family. But with the caveat that we knew exactly what the other wanted or there was The List(tm). My dad gave me the greatest gift of all on my eleventh birthday – the ability to sign in on his library card. That meant I could start on the adult section of the library (I’d already read every volume on the children’s side of our small library).

    If a book isn’t on The List, give me a gift certificate/card! I got a $100 B&N;card last Christmas. I have $15 left on it because I’ve been savoring it all year, picking books that were a bit more expensive, a bit more extravagant because they were…gifts!

    Sarah, I will definitely put THE BOOK on the list for Mother’s Day! And depending on when my book is released, I’ll be giving St. Patrick’s Day or April Fool’s Day gifts to all my friends and family! *snorfle*

  19. 19
    M E 2 says:

    Guess I won’t be lucky :::cough::: enough to catch the ads since I don’t read the NYT and/or the New Yorker. Oh wait,  nor do I view YouTube nor am I a member of Facebook, MySpace, etc.  @@ 

    I do give books as gifts, however, they are generally to my nephews who ASK me to buy them (the) books.

  20. 20
    KG says:

    I would be able to very easily choose books for people close to me….like my daughter, my son, my husband, my sister, my mother. You can’t tell me most of us don’t know the favorite authors of close family members.

    For those I don’t know well, one of those lovely things called a gift card!  My BIL gives me one every year for Barnes & Noble, and I love it. I can usually buy 4 or 5 new books, and there’s no guilt attached.

    Very easy to incorporate gift giving that includes books. I, for one, will be someone who will take up the challenge this Christmas!

  21. 21
    Tracy Wolff says:

    My mom and I give books as gifts all the time—she’s really easy to buy for as she and I have similar tastes.  I do the same with two of my best friends—one of who is into romances and one who is more a women’s fiction reader.  So far, it’s gone pretty well.  Giving hubby a book though—I wouldn’t know where to start.  If it isn’t filled with so much technical stuff I can’t even understand the title, then he doesn’t want it.

  22. 22
    Jen C says:

    I generally prefer to not get the gifts of books unless they are on a wish list of some sort.  I am very picky about books- I only want to own some types, and I own a million books and I hate getting repeats- I think the one thing to keep in mind is to always attach a gift receipt and never ask them what they thought of the book. 

    I don’t know that I would buy romance for anyone except my friend M who was the one that turned me onto the genre in the first place.  In all fairness, though, I know her tastes pretty intimately. 

    I recently lent my copy of Bet Me to a friend who has had some bad romance novel experiences.  She was half-way through the book when I last spoke to her, and I was raving about the book, and she said, “I hope, but I doubt, that they won’t end up together.”  I asked her why and she said she just didn’t buy into the idea of romance between people.  If there is one book I would lend out (and I have, probably 6 times) it would be Bet Me, and I have converted several people.  I just can’t convince her, though!

    I am not against the idea of books for people, but we’ll see if I feel comfortable enough with the idea when push comes to shove.  I think I will stick to more generic books- cookbooks, wacky facts books, art books.  And everyone gets a gift receipt.

  23. 23
    Marguerite says:

    My sister got married a couple of years ago, and her husband reads almost as much as I do. He always asks me for books for Christmas or his birthday, because he likes finding new works and authors to read and love (or hate) and feel about, and I read more broadly than he does. But even though it’s fun and it gives us something to talk about during the holidays, I still have to give carefully. The last couple of times I’ve gone with themes. For his birthday it was “Books I enjoyed with strong female protagonists” and for Christmas it’s “Childrens books I think everyone should read.” There are some topics I avoid giving him, because he has different beliefs, and some books I just think he wouldn’t enjoy.

    Next year is “Adventure novels I enjoyed, some of which are true, many of which are dated now”

  24. 24
    Katie Ann says:

    I bought Outlander for my sister last Christmas, which she of course loved and has started borrowing the rest of the series.  I’d gift that one to everyone if I knew more book lovers (or at least ones not prejudiced against historicals).  DH reads books on programming and computers and such (his current bathroom reader is his physics book from college…yeah), but I got him Stiff by Mary Roach, and he really liked that one, so I’ll be getting him Bonk (by the same author) and Parasite Rex (whose author’s name escapes me) this Christmas.

    I have an Amazon wish list that I’ve advertised heavily within my family, since they don’t seem to like “gift cards!” as an answer to what to get me.

  25. 25
    ms bookjunkie says:

    I was around 13 when a Christmas package revealed Henryk Sienkiewicz’s QUO VADIS?. My favorite. present. ever.

    I give the children in my life (not mine, family) books whenever possible. (Except last summer when the book I wanted to buy was not to be found so the two-year-old got a puzzle instead -a fantastic educational one that I discovered at a village fair. His mother recently texted me that he loves it and pieces it together several times a day.) For now the books have been greatly appreciated by both children and parents. I hit the bookstores at sale time and load up on kiddie presents for the whole year – no frantic searches and buying at the last minute, no headaches, and money saved. I am seriously considering getting I STINK! for the English-speaking kids in my life. (Thanks for the tip, SB Sarah!)

    I give my parents a lot of books as gifts. They are really work-oriented and I am much more book-savvy so I try to pair them up with something that helps them relax, give them a vacation from their lives. Sometimes I hit, other times I miss. (Mom didn’t care for La Nora’s Quinn brothers. *gasp*) The books seem to be mostly appreciated -unless they’re doing that ‘automatic parental approval’ thing to me. *g*

    In case anyone is curious, the puzzle can be found at http://www.orchardtoys.com

    kind95 -why yes, it is kind of me to give you a link to educational kiddie heaven *g*

  26. 26
    azteclady says:

    Book store gift certificates are the way to go, both for people you know well and for those you don’t know so well. In the first case, it’s not always easy to know which books they already have, and it sucks on both sides to do a repeat, even if they lurves it to death. In the second case, the recipient has a chance to get something s/he will actually and honestly enjoy (or, if s/he doesn’t, can’t blame the gift giver :grin: )

    And I speak as someone who would rather get a gift certificate, no matter how small, than a book I didn’t want.

    I’m awfully petty, aren’t I?

  27. 27
    Phyllis says:

    Well, you know, in spite of all this conversation about whether one should give books (I’ve had successes, I’ve had more failures, though), I think…. I smell…

    A contest!

    I never win your contests, so it’s not self-interest.

    But hey, a contest to come up with Random House’s task force’s slogan for them?  Can’t even imagine what the Bitchery would come up with….

  28. 28
    Suze says:

    If you want to give books (any kind of coffee-tables books, I think), gift cards are really the only way to go.

    D’oh!  I meant, if you want to give books OTHER THAN coffee-table books, use gift cards.  Because really, who buys $50 tomes full of artistic photographs of vintage tractors for themselves?

  29. 29
    Bonnie L. says:

    I am rather picky about the books I buy and I wouldn’t really like getting a book for a gift unless it was one I specifically asked for. I would much rather have a gift card so that I can spend all that lovely time looking at potential purchases and savoring all the choices.

    There are only two people in my life who are readers: my mother and my sister. ::insert sigh over the fact that the love of my life is not a reader:: My mother and I have different tastes (she thinks I read trashy smut), but I would still be able to buy a book that is in the ballpark of her tastes. My sister is a lot easier to buy for as her tastes are closer to mine and she’d welcome any romantic fantasy story I sent her way.

  30. 30

    And I speak as someone who would rather get a gift certificate, no matter how small, than a book I didn’t want.

    I’m awful petty, aren’t I?

    Nah, azteclady, just honest! I totally agree with you. Anyway, bookshelf space is limited so why waste it on something you don’t love? (And I’m a fine one to talk…)

    I’ve been thinking about it and have come to the chilling realization that there is no one in my RL for whom I can buy romance as a gift. (Poor little deprived me. But that’s why I appreciate SBTB so much!) The only way I receive a romance in a package is if I give specific book information or, more likely, exchange a book from my TBR pile for cash. That has happened! I’m considering doing it again -I have a guilty conscience about a hardcover I ordered recently. *eye roll* If it’s a gift then no problem, right? *g*

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