You can always recognise a book. The slippery wrapping paper always fails to conceal the fresh sharpness of the cover, the crisp angle of the spine, and the concave curve of the opening edge. It’s a hefty gift too, heavy with the promise of a good tale, and weighty with expectation. As you read the title, the giver of the gift looks upon you with the hopeful, desperate face of one who has not yet discovered their fandom and is thus yearning for the catharsis of communal appreciation. You thank them, maybe you give them a little ‘thank you’ hug, and then you put the book lovingly on your ‘to read’ pile.
The lazy days of Christmas shuffle on and soon enough you’re in rainy January and busy with work and school and worrying about how the poor souls in Albert Square will cope in the aftermath of the compulsory catastrophic New Year’s episode. And then, possibly in early February, there’s the inevitable question: have you read the book yet?
The first time this question is asked, I usually apologise and tell them about my ‘enormous’ amount of work and thus steer the conversation away from the unexamined book-gift. You can only use this response a maximum of two times before peak rudeness is reached and you have to ostracise yourself from the relationship.
Come Easter, therefore, in order to still enjoy a relationship with your friend or family member, you have to lie. The next time the question is asked, you will have had to have made a quick visit to the Wikipedia synopsis beforehand and have a few facts memorised about the main events of the plot and the key themes explored. It is also useful, I have found, to also have a quirky fact about the author to hand in order to shift the conversation in a more manageable direction.
All in all, Christmas book-giving and the inevitable, hopeful questioning from the Christmas book-giver can make for a very stressful springtime for the book-receiver. My advice to any potential Christmas book-givers out there in these heady December days is thus; if you really must give a book to someone for Christmas, then at least try to make sure it’s a book that they will enjoy reading more than you will look forward to discussing. And, after Christmas, if you refrain from asking them if they’ve read it yet, their stress levels might just be low enough for them to have a little dabble in their ‘to read’ pile…