Cover photo by Nour Al Ghraowi.
The holiday season is about friendship, love, forgiveness, and giving—with an emphasis on “gift giving.” Yes, many of us are breaking out our credit cards and purchasing toys, socks, and big bottles of perfume to give to those close to us. I’m sure many of you will also be giving (and receiving) books as presents as 2018 draws to a close. I’ve heard people say that books are the gifts that keep on giving, and perhaps it’s true—you can reread a book and have a completely different experience, notice things you didn’t see before, feel emotions that you hadn’t explored on that first read. Some of my favorite books have started out as gifts. When I was thirteen, I received Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying for Christmas, and I struggled to read it—and honestly didn’t really understand it. But I went back to it a few years later and fell in love with it. Now I read it every few years, and each time I return to the trials of the Bundren kin in that strange daze of Mississippi twilight. Other books I received as gifts have included If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and (most recently) a three volume set biography of Graham Greene. Some of the books I have given as gifts are A History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I’ve always felt books make great gifts because they’re fun, personal, and can serve as a reminder of the relationship between giver and receiver.
It’s the perfect gift.
Except for when it backfires.
There are times when you unfortunately give someone a book he or she already owns. Or you misjudge the person and give a book that will surely never be read. It happens.
Though I loved receiving books as gifts, it was always a little difficult to read them. Not that I was avoiding them—my father would steal them from me. I know. It’s bizarre. But that was how it was. I’d unwrap a new book on my birthday or on Christmas morning and try to read it, and my father would extend his hand and say, “Let me see that for a second.” Being a respectful son, I’d hand my book over to him, and he’d begin reading my book and usually wouldn’t give it back. This happened when I was ten… it happens now. Even as a child it struck me as odd. It was odd that he wanted to read a book aimed at young boys… and then it seemed odd that he was essentially changing a gift to me into a gift for himself. These days when he mails me books, they all come with creased spines and dog-eared pages stained with coffee rings. He tells me with pride that he reads them before he sends them off. Every now and again when I’m visiting, he’ll see me reading and ask to see my book. I look him dead in the eye and tell him, “No. Get your own book. This is mine.” My father will sheepishly shuffle away, but I’ve lost enough books and must defend my library. And he has plenty of his own books to read.
My father and I still give each other books as gifts—for holidays and birthdays and just because. I’ve been lucky to mail him some of his favorite mysteries that have gone out of print, and I’ve mailed him first editions signed by the authors, though these he admits he typically doesn’t finish. Most recently I was able to send my father copies of Raymond Chandler’s Trouble is my Business and The Simple Art of Murder. Hopefully those will keep him satisfied for a while.
If you’re looking for books to give your friends, lovers, family, or co-workers, then you’re at the right place. Every issue of Texas Books in Review might as well be a gift-giver’s suggestion list for that Texas book lover in your life. There’s typically one Texas Ranger biography, a novel or two, poetry, and maybe even some cookbooks thrown into the mix. This issue happens to have some wonderful reviews about Texas baseball in Liftoff! and They Call Me Pudge. There are also some interesting opinions about J.R. Helton’s memoir, Bad Jobs, Poor Decisions, and our own editorial fellow, Claudia D. Cardona, gives her thoughts on Analicia Sotelo’s newest poetry collection, Virgin. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a book you want to give to yourself this holiday season. This issue has a little bit of everything! And in a state like Texas you need to be ready for everything—from weather to food to politics… Texas is anything but predictable. But luckily for you, Texas Books in Review is consistent.