I like books. I also really like giving and receiving books as gifts. They make the best present, bar none. Let me explain a little bit more.
Ultimately, there are four reasons that books are the best gift, ranging from the maybe profound and at least philosophical to the boringly mundane.
First of all, we – me, my family, and those I give gifts to – live in a world where we already have more possessions than are good for us. Not in some kind of wishy-washy moral or ethical sense, but rather that the simple net-net impact of getting more Stuff just makes us worse off. An item of clothing, to store and add to one’s decision fatigue. A set of beautiful wine glasses, whose defining characteristic is that they must not be broken. A technological gadget that hits the novelty button but doesn’t add much value. It’s boringly false in a universal sense, but, net-net, most Stuff has no value. Books are different.
Second, there is simple matter of logistics. Me and my immediate family have managed to scatter ourselves across 6 different countries covering all points of the globe and postage ain’t cheap. My friends just add more geographic variety. Call me simplistic, but I’d rather get (and give) gifts that cost more than their stamps. Or not get gifts at all. A thoughtful email can be as valuable as it is weightless.
Third, giving someone a good book requires effort. This is true of all good gift giving, but with a book it’s more obvious to the recipient when someone has been lazy and taken the shortcut: “What gift would I want to have?”. Of course the book needs to be good. But it also needs to be written in a style the recipient will enjoy. It needs to be topically or thematically relevant. They need to want to read it.
Fourth, a gift has value at the time it is given but some gifts, special gifts, accrue in value as well. A good bottle of wine or port may seem like a counter-example of Stuff, but you can only drink it once. A much truer example is a great book. I’ve read my favourite books, fiction and non-fiction, dozens of times. There are hundreds of others I’ve yet to read. Each time I read them I learn something new. They suggest new topics for further investigation. The book is different. Or maybe I’ve changed – but still the book is great. What gift could be better than that?
In summary: books are great. The interesting alternative to books? Experiences. It turns out that Experiences aren’t Stuff either. Perhaps a post for another day.