When an occasion arises that requires a gift, naturally my thoughts turn first toward books. They are highly personal. They have the capacity to change your life. This is why I love giving—and receiving!—books.
I’m not the only one, I’m sure: if you’re reading this post you likely understand the power and beauty of a great book. For this reason we at Bauman always find ourselves delightfully busy around the holidays. I love assisting a fiancé in finding the right gift for his bibliophile love, brainstorming ideas for a respected coworker’s retirement dinner, or suggesting texts for graduates embarking on a new life. In fact, gift giving is simply an extension of one of the most rewarding aspects of our business: the pleasure of matching the right book with the right recipient.
I thought with the advent of December we’d take a moment to celebrate some of the great gifts of the past, so I’ve asked each of our blog contributors to tell me about a special book they once received as a gift.
Probably the best book I’ve ever been given was a gift from my grandmother. She knew that I’d studied/written about Catch-22 in graduate school and gave me her hardcover, dust-jacketed copy of it when I graduated. I didn’t even know she’d read it (let alone had it), but, there it was, with her bookplate in it and everything. And now it sits on my mantle. I have a lot of books, and some that I’ve probably paid more for than was a good idea. But if my apartment were ever on fire, I’d grab my grandmother’s Catch-22, tuck it under my arm, and, like Yossarian, take off.
When I graduated from college, my advisor, Lisa, gifted me with a deluxe edition of Eudora Welty: Stories, Essays, & Memoir. Inside the book, Lisa affixed a hugely loving letter, which (among much else) proffered her utter faith in my ability to go out and, you know, make something of myself. Since then, I think of her with a haze of good feeling whenever I read (or even talk about) Welty. The best part though? That letter includes, I kid you not, a Works Cited section for several texts that Lisa quoted – including my own Honors Thesis.
My Mother gave me a copy of a book titled Fuss Bunny when I was in kindergarten. We did not have books in our home. But, for some reason, my mother suspected that I would like a book. The book was, as you can suspect, a clue to my early, budding personality and was a not so subtle hint that I should get in the habit of eating what was on my plate for dinner. I got the hint, but although it did little to change my eating habits, she was right to suspect how much books would mean to this fussy little bunny.
As an elementary school student, I became a fan of Claude Monet’s work after being introduced to his lily pad and Japanese bridge paintings in our art class. Years later, at 15, I was gifted an art book with prints of Claude Monet’s full oeuvre and promptly after unwrapping it, I was told that we would be going to France for the summer – making sure to stop in Giverny. Before the trip, I studied each work with the expectation of seeing the same beautiful sites in person. What struck me rather serendipitously, and most movingly, were Monet’s paintings of haystacks in various lights leap into contemporaneous reality as, going to our lodgings, we drove past the very same in the little hamlet of St. Vincent-de-Bois in the hills above Vernon.
Shortly after arriving in the US, I wanted to read the books my colleagues here at Bauman Rare Books felt were important American works. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy came up more than once. With it being the Holiday Season, I was warned the content may not leave me feeling all that spirited. However, the book was great and I have become a fan. Now when I look out across the desert in Nevada and wonder how anyone ever dared to travel across this part of the country, I do so with a wince, but also with a more mature pioneer’s eye.
Francie thought that all the books in the world were in that library and she had a plan about reading all the books in the world. She was reading a book a day in alphabetical order and not skipping the dry ones.
I was Francie Nolan’s age when I first read Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I felt an immediate connection with her through our shared love of books and reading, though her world was very different from my own. I returned to that book again and again, and my understanding and appreciation of it only deepened as I grew older. Shortly after we married, my husband gave me a first edition, which is proudly displayed among my most treasured books– right next to the original copy I first read decades ago.
It was, quite simply, the right book at the right time. Embry and I were hired here at Bauman around the same time, and in between our early training sessions we quickly found time to bond over works of poetry. My tastes trended towards the ancient Greeks and Romans, so I hadn’t explored much contemporary poetry. Embry knew just the book for me: The Beauty of the Husband, a 2001 book of poetry by Classicist Anne Carson. This simple gift from one friend to another opened up a world of power and beauty that I will never forget.