We live in an age of convenience. In 2014, Americans spent more than $127 billion on gift cards. Purchasing gift cards requires little time, little effort and little thought. But there was a time, not too long ago, that people celebrated milestones or special occasions in the lives of loved ones by taking the time to think about a unique gift — a book. And there was a time that bookstores thrived where these people would go to browse the bookshelves or ask knowledgeable booksellers what they might recommend for that special occasion. Buying a book took some time, some effort, and a lot of thought. Books were not only meaningful to the giver, but could be especially meaningful for the recipient. Including an inscription or card in the book personalized the gift even more.
It is this form of gift-giving that is the focus of Jen Adams’s website (theBooksTheyGaveMe.com) and related book titled The Books They Gave Me: True Stories of Life, Love, and Lit. In the book’s introduction, Adams writes about the value of books as gifts: “Books can… have potent influences over us; giving someone the right book at the right time can change his life forever… Each [book that was kept] said something important about who we were at that moment. The books I own tell my life story, and the ones given me by the people I love offer special insight into the experiences that have made me who I am.”
Unlike gift cards, plastic or digital, books last. Adams elaborates: “In this age of the e-book, part of the appeal of being given a hard copy book as a gift is its tangible timelessness. Books are real… They don’t expire; they can’t disappear in a power surge.” Adams ends the introduction by remarking that although some of the people that gave her a book are no longer a part of her life, she still treasures the books that they gave her.
Adams’s book features a wide range of books (including fiction, children’s fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and reference books) along with short essays of why they are meaningful to the recipients. Below are a few titles from the book.
Paulo Coelho: By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept
Antoine de Saint-Exupery: The Little Prince
Various authors: A Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems
Kahlil Gibran: The Prophet
Rainer Maria Rilke: Letters to a Young Poet
Slavomir Rawicz: The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom
If indeed a bookshelf tells the story of your life, what are the books you have kept that define who you are?
For further reading: The Books They Gave Me: True Stories of Life, Love, and Lit by Jen Adams, Free Press (2012)