We're working on a feature for the May issue, "What Makes a Good Graduation Gift Book?" and it's causing me to think about how complicated gift-giving can be. As Betty Carter says in the article, any gift of a book comes with an agenda: here's what I like or think is important and/or here's what I think you like or should find important. In either case, here's what I think about you. I remember the time an acquaintance gave me a Madonna CD for my birthday, and my acerbic friend Ruth remarked, "that's the kind of present a straight girl gives a gay man . . . she doesn't know very well."
Me, I generally give a gift card rather than a book, a dodge that Anne Quirk rightly denounced as cowardice. Richard is braver and/or more thoughtful, and almost always comes up with gifts of books or music that reveal he keeps a close eye on my tastes as well as what I already own. But for my last birthday he gave me a copy of Arthur Phillips' The Song Is You. It was a good guess, all about love and music and iPods, sort of a higher-minded High Fidelity, but reading it was complete hell--the prose was simply way too rich for my taste. But I gamely soldiered on, a few pages here and there, always packing it in my bag for vacations but never getting much beyond page 75. You have to, right, when it's a present from someone who loves you?
He eventually noticed that it was languishing, however, and took it for his own enjoyment. (Perhaps this was his motive for buying it in the first place, the way I bought him Simon Mawer's The Glass Room, which, fortunately, he loved and I am loving.) But today, triumph! I just got an email from him quoting from the Phillips, "her breath a cumulus the size of a peach," adding, simply, "slows you down, doesn't it?" Uh huh.