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.