Every holiday season for the last 10 years, my Book Riot Podcast co-host Jeff O’Neal and I have answered listener requests for holiday gift book recommendations. It’s fun, challenging, and a good chance to get creative with picks people might not find on their own, and I’ve noticed a few patterns that pop up year after year in how folks approach looking for books to gift to their loved ones. If you’re shopping for bookish gifts this year, here are a few tips borne out of a decade’s worth of playing personal shopper.
1. Ask Yourself: Does This Person Actually Want Books?
Is your intended gift recipient a reader, or do you just wish they were? If they are a reader, you’re good to go. If they aren’t much of a reader, but they’ve asked you to help them get into it, roll on! But if you’re trying to buy books for someone who isn’t likely to read them…you’ve got some more work to do here, friend.
Now, I’m going to assume your desire to foist books on someone who isn’t bookish is coming from a good place. Books mean a lot to you, and you want to share that joy with someone you love. I get that. But a key to giving good gifts is really seeing the giftee, so when you give books to a non-reader because you wish they wanted to read (or worse, because you think they should read), you’re really giving them an obligation. Nobody wants to unwrap a guilt trip.
2. Leave Your Judgments at the Door.
Once you’ve determined that books are an appropriate gift for the person you have in mind, it’s time to make some decisions. The belief that there’s no such thing as a “real reader” has been core to the Book Riot ethos since day one, and I encourage you to take it into your heart. Think about the kinds of books your giftee enjoys, and set out to surprise and delight them. Put aside any judgments you might have about their choices in genre, subject matter, or format. This is about giving them a treat, not converting them to your personal favorites or molding them into your image of a Good Reader. If you aren’t familiar enough with books that land in their wheelhouse, that’s what booksellers, podcast hosts, and Al Gore’s internet are for.
3. Check the Vibes.
One big thing that still distinguishes human recommendations from AI or an algorithm’s “readers also bought”-style list is that humans have the ability to get beyond the synopses and buzzwords to understand what it feels like to read a particular book. Don’t look at your friend’s World War II novel about lady librarian spies and assume you should buy her 7 (or 70, those things are everywhere) more. Instead, ask, “What did you love about it?”
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