Is It Lame to Give Books for Christmas? Sometimes.

CRI have a big extended family, so whenever we’re all together for Christmas, we’ve developed a system for opening gifts: We all open one at the same time, then we take a moment to go around the room and share what we’ve just unwrapped. One year I was watching everyone open gifts, and I saw my sister get a huge David McCullough book. Her face fell, and my uncle looked disappointed in his gift and jealous of hers. It turns out, my mom had accidentally switched the tags: Uncle Mike was supposed to get 1776, and my sister was supposed to have the gift he’d unwrapped. When they figured it out and switched the books, Mike was incredibly excited. The book that was just a doorstop to my sister* was a thrill to my uncle.


photo(1068)A book is a gift you can open again and again. The Internet tells me Garrison Keillor said this.


Let’s face it: Sometimes a book is a really lame gift. Books can be boring; they can be preachy or judgmental. Self-help books that are really thinly veiled hints rarely make good presents — unless you’re a Grinch or a super-mean person, don’t give anyone a copy of He’s Just Not that into You for Christmas. And kids who get dull books, including a lot of classics, are rarely happy about it on Christmas morning.


But a book can also make a perfect present, if you find the right one. I’ve been really lucky to have customers who come back in after Christmas and get really emotional about how I helped them find the perfect book for their aunt, or grandfather, or nephew, and how that actually helped to strengthen their relationship. Books can be fantastic for dads who can be tough to buy for but often love history books, or books about their hobbies (think whiskey, motorcycles, golf — but only if your dad’s into those things, obviously). An interactive book like Recycled Robots, which teaches kids how to make toy robots out of trash they find around the house, can be a really fun present that also keeps kids busy during the rest of the long holiday when they’re trapped inside. Any book that’s actually interesting and that’s chosen to mirror an interest that the person who’s getting it already has can be exciting, rewarding, and can lead to more creativity and even a better relationship with the gift giver.


I think the perfect gift isn’t just about spending money. It’s about recognizing what’s great about the other person and reflecting that through a thoughtful gift. The right present isn’t whatever’s most expensive, but whatever shows that you really understand and value the other person. And a well-chosen book can do that better than almost anything else.


At Christmas, it’s important to get the right book, not just any book. How do you find that? I’ll give you a hint: Amazon’s algorithm probably isn’t going to help. Of course I’m biased, but I think it’s best to check out the stock at a small bookstore, where we choose books based on the fact that we love them, and we know them, and we think they’ll be perfect for our customers, not because someone paid us to display them like they do at big bookstores. All year, I’ve been shopping for your Christmas books, making notes and attending trade shows and listening to podcasts (and reading, obviously) to be sure the books that go under your tree are quality and will be perfect gifts for your family. It’s a lot of work, I guess, but it’s also incredibly rewarding and it’s one of my favorite parts of being a book buyer. Don’t give bad books for Christmas, but do give books — just make sure they’re the right ones. Come by Church Street Coffee & Books (or your favorite local bookshop) and let us help you get it right.


* My sister reads a lot, too. And she was an Anthropology major, so she’s very interested in history — just not necessary founding-father history.


Carrie Rollwagen is co-owner and book buyer at Church Street Coffee & Books, an independent bookstore in Birmingham, Alabama.

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