This will come as news to no man, but I am a bit of a “heavy reader.” Since I moved to Boston, books have slowly encroached upon all available physical and mental space that I will allow them. The Boy entertained a house-guest a few years back who had never visited our shared living situation. He was a well-educated, intellectual-type of a house-guest – a reader himself – and his first words upon entering our apartment? “Wow. So, you have a ton of books.” That was at least three years ago – the reading situation has not yet improved. It’s gotten to the point where my reputation precedes myself: there are plenty of The Boy’s coworkers who I have not yet met, folks who only know me from what information my dear husband decides to share. And they all know that I read. They wish they could read as much as me.
Brag brag brag. I’m a superhuman book demolishing machine. Moving along. I am an obviously superior being, but you know what? It also probably sucks to buy me – or any other heavy readers – a holiday gift. You probably want to buy them a book, but how in the world can you select a book for someone who reads 10 to 20 books a month? You can’t keep up with what they’ve read, they’ve probably become so choosy they will poo-poo your selection, or they are so caught up in their own reading agendas that they will never read the book you’ve so carefully chosen. I suffer so much from this last problem that some of my relatives have given up buying me books at all. This makes me sad, both because I love receiving new books and because I am a horrible, ungrateful gift receiver.
So what do you buy the overly well-read? The library card wielder? The girl with the overstuffed bookshelves?
Well, for me, I have a few specific types of books that I would be happy to see under the tree this year. First off, there are The Long Books – the books that I could never hope to finish before their due date. My tastes are not particular here – mainstream literary fiction with a splash of series fantasy. Anything on a recent Best Fiction of the Year list that is over 500 pages will usually do – Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell are all on my mind this year.
Then we have The Slow Books – the books that don’t lend themselves to straight-through reading, the meaty books, the reference books. The books I’d rather savor, or mark up with pencil, or generally take my time with. Books I’ll likely never read unless they are sitting in my apartment, reminding me to revisit them. The come in a few breeds. The Essays: Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The Creative-Life-Stories: Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Patti Smith’s Just Kids. The Short Stories: Alice Munro’s, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. The Children’s Lit-ish: Gail D. Nordstrom’s Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books, or Leonard Marcus’s Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.
And finally, there are The Collectibles. And by collectible I don’t mean anything precious, anything special or first-edition. I just mean those books that you wonder why on earth you don’t own. Last year, I received a beautiful Song of Ice and Fire box set that still delights me to gaze upon. This year, I’m wondering why on earth I don’t own a single Harry Potter book.
You see how I have cleverly packaged my holiday wishlist into a tasteful blog post? Sneaky. But really, it’s probably best if nobody bought me a book, ever. See those bookshelves up there? Do you see any available space? No. Will I be able to squeeze any of these books into my likewise jam-packed reading schedule? Probably not. Don’t buy me a book. Especially if it’s a mass-market paperback. Ick. I do prefer the trade paperback when possible. Ahem.