Last year, I made the tragic mistake of going to Yorkdale mall on the first Saturday of December.
A deafening barrage of shrieking children, frantic parents, lazy walkers, loud talkers, anxious employees, aggressive hagglers, and booming holiday music hit me upon entering. It was a depressing composition of repeated staccato notes, in the phrases of “I’m sorry” and “Excuse me” and “Watch out!”
I felt like I was on fast-forward, my heart palpitating, head spinning, and green tea sloshing mercilessly out of its cup, burning my fingers.
Meandering through the crowds, I overheard different pieces of survival advice in conversation:
“Oh, I always have a big breakfast beforehand.”
“Take a few deep breaths, and you’ll be fine.”
“Coffee. A lot of coffee.”
It seemed that I was the only person who did not know what to do or where to go. I did not walk briskly through the mall with an intended road map in mind (first Williams-Sonoma for dad, then Roots for mom – she just loves those wool socks). The truth is, I possess none of the skills of a professional shopper. I wander, I look around, I pick up and put down. I found myself taking small steps and small sips of tea, gazing at items in store windows for a short time before moving on, my body gently rocked side-to-side by the rushing crowd.
Finally, I made it to the front of the bookstore.
Ah, peace and quiet.
Unsurprisingly, here, I finished most of my holiday shopping. It really is that easy. And if you believe your loved ones are not big readers, I beg you to think again. There’s an escape route for everyone.
They might like Canlit, non-fiction, romance, mystery, history, or art. They might have an idol, a pet, a New Year’s resolution to finally start yoga, a desire to learn French, or an inexplicable relationship with Mexican cuisine. There’s a book for them.
There are cookbooks, how-tos, big and beautiful photography tomes, literature on the performing arts, language, business, or travel. There are books for kids, teens, tweens, adults, grandparents. There’s a book for the plumber, the private dancer, the stay-at-home parent, the cheese addict, the architect, the storyteller, the graphic designer, the cinephile, the writer, the baker-on-the-side, the teacher, the music buff, or the wine aficionado in your life.
And in no way am I limiting the selection to shiny new hardcovers or glossy paperbacks. Do you have a book in your own collection that you think might benefit a close friend or relative? Give it to them. Let them know why. Books, and the stories inside of them, are meant to be recycled into new hands.
Growing up, my parents always gave my brother and I books, and then quizzed us on them afterwards to ensure that we read them. We spent hours in the library, and they took note of the books we were engrossed in. In December, we found them under the tree. In return, we wrote little poems and heartfelt messages in handmade paper cards. We signed them with our own insignia at the bottom, pretending that they were from Hallmark or Carleton: “Cristina Cards” or “Joseph Cards” circled with a sparkly gold pen.
My parents grudgingly accepted our small gifts, while insisting that we did not have to give them anything, that they had their family around the Christmas tree, which is more than enough. They appreciated the little things, the practical and sentimental value of a gift. They taught me the art and importance of truly giving.
So, my brother and I bought them books, too. Last year, I added to my father’s bookshelf Open Secrets: Wikileaks, War, and American Diplomacy. For my mother, The Glass Castle. For my brother, Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization. (He’s a plumber).
You may not think so but, as I learned from my family, buying a book is an intimate and thoughtful act. It is as personal as a piece of lingerie, as gracious as a box of chocolates. It’s like placing a blanket on top of someone after they’ve fallen asleep, or smiling at a stranger. If you’re buying a book for someone this holiday season, you’ve made a conscious effort to enhance their life. You care. Think about how much consideration goes into choosing a book — it means that you are attentive to what they say, that you know and support what they’re interested in.
A book may not be the only gift you’re giving someone, but it is perfect on its own, or in addition to something else. Make it even more special by writing a little note inside. They’ll treasure it forever.