No One Gives Me Books

Josie Leavitt -- November 14th, 2012

Today is my birthday. I’ve owned a bookstore for 16 years and for 16 years, I have not received a book as a gift. Everyone just assumes I can get all the books I want. While this is true, there is something so lovely about getting a book as a gift.

There is nothing quite like a good friend shopping for a book for you. I see tremendous thought go into book purchases by my customers. When you give a book you’re really thinking about someone. What do they like? What mood are they in and how can a book help that? Too often it is assumed that I know all the books in the land, therefore it’s pointless to get me a book. Oh, reader, this is not so.

I love being introduced to a book by a friend. Someone introducing me to their favorite author is a privilege. I like learning about my friends by what their book passions are. Why do they like Neruda? How come I’d never read Kaye Gibbons until Elizabeth handed me Ellen Foster? It’s not enough to tell me about these authors, I can’t remember names these days. But a book I’ll remember.

Some of my best book birthdays include my sixth when I got a copy of the Dr. Seuss book, My Book About Me. A gift of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle when I was nine made my Christmas vacation.  A tenth birthday present of Julie of the Wolves and I remember so clearly sitting in my room, practically transfixed as I read the book one weekend. I can’t believe I still remember these books.

But also remember a Christmas present in my 20s of The Secret History and Wicked. Gone are the days of someone giving me a cookbook. I still have my Silver Palate Cookbook from 20 years ago. Books create memories for the giver and the receiver. So, remember, just because a bookseller works in a bookstore, doesn’t mean she wouldn’t like a book now and again.

What are some of the books you remember the most being given?

16 thoughts on “No One Gives Me Books

  1. Stacey Mason

    When I graduated from High School, my childhood neighbors (Peter and Lois Phelps) gave me a copy of The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition. At the time, I remember thinking it was a pretty impractical gift, or at least not very personal, which many graduation gifts tend to be. Little did I know that I would have this dictionary for so many years, and to this day, still look up words in it. I wonder what they saw in me at 18 years of age that would make them know how much I would love language today….?

  2. Patrice Fitzgerald

    My Dad gave me a facsimile copy of “Alice In Wonderland” when I was too young to appreciate it, but I still have it. “Teddy & the Mystery Deer” was the first book I ever purchased myself… and my third grade teacher said it would take me months to read it… but of course I was finished in a week. I have an abridged copy of “Little Women” that I got when I was quite young as well. I remember all my early books.

    As a writer now, and a tiny publisher — I’m not too tiny, but my publishing biz is — I am so touched by Josie’s message that I’d love to send her my first novel. Let’s see if I can figure out how to get it to her. And happy birthday, Josie! Thanks for the gift of selling, and celebrating, books with the rest of us.

  3. Ken Pidcock

    When I graduated high school, my biology teacher gave me Theodosius Dobzhansky’s Genetics of the Evolutionary Process. It’s a dense monograph that no high school graduate, and few college graduates, can appreciate. In later years, I understood it to be an honor that he recognized I would one day be a biologist.

  4. Kareemah Hamdan

    One of my elementary school librarians gave me Fantastic Mr. Fox one year for my birthday. I still have it and it is still one of my all time favorites.
    A friend of my mothers was always giving me books as grew up (we lived overseas and it was hard to get books in English). When we met her again after a gap spanning 20 years, she actually teared up when she learned I had become a librarian.
    I hear your discontent though. No one ever gives me books as gift either despite my frequent references to my Amazon Wishlist whenever they ask what I might like as a gift. Sigh.

  5. Diana

    I’ve always loved books, but in my entire life I don’t ever remember being given a book I didn’t ask for. So now as a bookseller I guess I’m long enough into “never receiving a book gift” that I’m used to it. Sad – but true.

  6. Jean Huets

    The earliest gift book I remember is The Little Engine that Could. Figures, I’ve stuck it out in publishing.

    But your story made me think of the time that I served dinner to a chef, with many apologies for my lack of skill. She said that no one else ever cooked for her.

  7. Meredith Ann Rutter

    When I was fifteen or sixteen, I think, my mom gave me the book Leave Her to Heaven, a suspense by Ben Ames Williams. I remember loving it–so much so that reading your article today made me buy a copy immediately! Can’t wait to read it again and see why it appealed to me so much.

  8. Kathy

    My grandmother gave me the Chronicles of Narnia when we moved away when I was seven. I still have those in a special place on my bookshelves. Reading those books meant my grandparents weren’t so far away.

  9. Ellie Miller

    Barbara…”Alice in Wonderland” was my first book too, given under what still seem to me to be rather unique circumstances as it also marks the beginning of a what was to become my lifelong passion. On December 7th, I’ll have owned and treasured it for 73 years. The circumstances? I vividly remember asking my ‘Mother-who-read-to-me’…”When can I have a book with lots of words in it?” And her reply was, “When you can read them.” My copy is inscribed, “Happy 4th Birthday to our dear little storygirl, love, Mother and Daddy” and dated December 7, 1939. I guess I must have learned how…LOL.

  10. Barbara Lalicki

    My aunt gave me THE BOBBSEY TWINS IN THE COUNTRY for my birthday when I was eight. I remember being amazed that a book was a present. It was incredibly strange to own one–my own book!

  11. barbara kelly

    The first book I was given was Alice in Wonderland. My Mom gave it to me for my birthday and it’s still one of my favorite books. Like you no gives me books now since they know what my house looks like but in the 60′s when I was a “hippie” my sister gave me Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman. That one disappeared from the house so I guess someone took that literally.

  12. Misti

    I remember getting the Emily of New Moon trilogy when I was probably about 10, visiting my grandparents for Christmas in Florida. One of the reasons this is so vivid in my mind is because I took one of the books outside to read under the tree in the back yard, and accidentally left it there to be soaked in an afternoon rain shower!

  13. Cate

    I’ve worked in bookstores for more than a decade and this sentiment has hung over many a holiday. Though I’m lucky enough to have a couple close friends who are also booksellers, I’m disappointed that they are the only ones who buy me books anymore.

  14. Christina Wilsdon

    I have, thankfully, an entire shelf in my mind devoted to books I’ve been given. One I remember most clearly took place in the Little Professor Bookshop in Huntington, NY, in the mid-1970s, when I was in middle school. I’d picked up a hefty volume of Robert Frost’s poetry and admired it until I noticed it cost $6.00 (yeah, I know, a bargain, but it seemed a whopping sum to me at the time, because I didn’t have it). “Six dollars!” I exclaimed, putting the book back on the shelf quickly as if it were on fire. I saw my dad smile but thought nothing of it. Of course, no sooner had we stepped outside the store after some more browsing then my dad handed me a bag containing that book. Which I still have and will never part with.

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