Alternative Gifts for Those Gifted with Books

Alison Morris - May 27, 2007

I haven’t had much time to wrap my brain around the fact that BEA is just a few days away, in part because I’m too busy at work to give it much thought, and in part because I’m going to be missing much of it! Early Saturday morning I’ll be zipping off to Pennsylvania to watch one of my oldest and closest friends, Timothy Decker, tie the knot with his beloved fiancee Mandy.

Tim and Mandy live in a tiny apartment, so they registered for almost nothing, gift-wise. Why ask for gifts when you don’t have anywhere to put them? The trouble is, that leaves guests and loving friends like me all the more stymied.

I imagine this same situation must sometimes confront the loved ones of those of us in the book business. For most readers a book makes a wonderful gift, but for those of us overburdened with reading material, a gifted book sometimes makes a guilt-laden burden. (My secret, pained thought on such occasions: "How many years will it take before I’ll find the time to read this one?") Of course, there are very cool gifts to give book hoarders other than books, but these are sometimes harder to come by and don’t always seem like the perfect fit.

So, here’s the question: What do you give to the people who mean the most to you but need the least from you (at least in terms of tangible "stuff," e.g. reading material)? And here’s my answer: You give stuff to someone else on their behalf.

For a few years now I’ve been making donations to Heifer International on behalf of friends and family members for Christmas and birthdays. In each case they’ve been thrilled and moved to learn they’d given a needy family a flock of chicks, a flock of ducks, a hive of honeybees, or a trio of rabbits. Thinking another charity’s offerings might have a wedding gift more perfectly suited to Tim and Mandy, though, I went shopping for them at Changing the Present, a website that partners with many, many nonprofits to offer one-stop-shopping for all your intangible gift-giving needs. Below are a few examples from their website of reading-related gifts that would make meaningful offerings for those of us with inadequate shelf space. 

Two caveats: 1.) I still think books make an EXCELLENT gift for almost anyone, and I’d be a terrible bookseller if I didn’t think/say so. 2.) Changing the Present’s website does not yet include financial information on these groups, so if you’re concerned about the channeling of your contributions, do some digging. Each nonprofit name below includes a direct link to their website, to help you in that quest.

For $25, you can help CEC ArtsLink build an art library in Russian or Central Asia in your friend’s name.

Your politically active aunt will love that you gave $100 on her behalf, to help PEN American Center free jailed writers or inspire underserved, "aliterate" New York City high school students.

Even if they haven’t yet been awarded a fellowship to the MacDowell Colony, your writer friends may appreciate your paying $10 to cover lunch for an artist-in-residence or $100 to give someone at MacDowell "The Gift of Time." (Oh for someone to give ME a gift of that nature!)

For $50 you can make a book accessible to someone with print disabilities, through the work of Benetech.

For as little as $5 you can give two new books to a needy child by way of First Book, who is also happy to have you fill a child’s bookshelf ($60) or "stock the homes of an entire classroom of children in need" ($720).

Anyone who’s fallen in love with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible will think it’s the perfect gift — your donating $45 to Women for Women International who’ll use those funds to teach a woman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to read.

For $75 you can pay a Nepalese librarian’s salary for one month, supporting the work of Read Global and thanking your lucky stars $75 isn’t a librarian’s monthly salary here.

Here’s one more suggestion: Donating $250 will allow Room to Read to educate a girl for one year. They’ll pay her school fees and provide her with a bicycle, a school uniform, a backpack, a daily lunch, a medical exam, immunizations, and mentoring from a Room to Read staff member.

Imagine giving your friend (and a girl somewhere in the world) all that, without taking up an inch of space in their bookcase.

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