Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Prompt, not pretty

April 30, 2010

Earlier this week it was my friend Beth’s birthday.  I’d been trying to find a copy of a certain book for her, which I’d read and thought she’d enjoy too (Don’t look behind you by Peter Allison, an entertaining memoir about his work as a safari guide in Africa).  Beth grew up in Africa and loves its wildlife, so I thought she’d enjoy this particular book.

Four days before her birthday, I still hadn’t been able to track down a copy of it.  So when I found a copy of it last Saturday (her birthday was the Tuesday following), I quickly purchased it – complete with exchange card, just in case – then pondered my options.

If I took the book home to wrap, I wouldn’t be able to post it until Monday, the day before her birthday.  So it might not arrive on time.  Plus it would take a special trip to get it posted (I have a few health complications – nothing life-threatening, but it means I need to slow down a bit just now.)

Having weighed all this up, and the fact there was a post office just around the corner, open for business, I made my decision.  Five minutes later the book was packaged, addressed and in the postal system.  Okay, there was no card or pretty wrapping paper with it, but it was going to arrive on time.  I made a choice, and ‘prompt’ won the day over ‘pretty’.

When I got home I emailed Beth to let her know her birthday present was en route, but undressed.  Beth is in her early 50s – she can handle an unwrapped gift (and she’s very popular – I know she’ll get many more gifts all gussied up in their finest!) 

However, if I was sending a gift to a child, I would definitely have taken the book home and made sure it was wrapped – the pleasure of unwrapping an attractive gift is, for a child, a big thrill indeed.


What NOT to give an older person

February 3, 2010

I’ve made my share of gift gaffes in my time, but Caroline’s gift to her elderly father – a copy of Betty Friedan’s The Fountain of Age (a study of aging and how people face aging) – is quite breathtaking.

In fairness to Caroline, she was just trying to give her much-loved dad a thoughtful gift and, as he was entering his seventies, the aging process was a very real part of his life.  Perhaps a topic he might want to read about and explore, she thought.

Whereas many people would see a gift like that as a big banner with the words “YOU’RE GONNA DIE!” emblazoned on it.  Not too many people are queuing up for those sorts of gifts. 

Caroline’s dad wasn’t offended, exactly…but neither was he thrilled with the gift.  I think he’d’ve preferred a bottle of aftershave, any day.  Or a good bottle of wine.  Or a book that wasn’t about his own mortality.

Brilliant books

December 28, 2009

As an avid reader with catholic (and I don’t mean the religion) tastes, from time to time I discover books that I think certain friends and family members would love to read. 

Occasionally, I act on this impulse.  Only occasionally, because sometimes being given a book with an instruction to read it (“You must read this book!  You’ll love it!”) can feel like being given homework.  And you just know the gift-giver is going to stalk you about it later.  (“Have you read it yet?  Did you like it?  I must send you the author’s other works.”)  So it can be a bit of a bore, being given a book.

I try to avoid being that kind of bore. 

So the book is given in a low-key manner, and – usually – received in much the same way.  “Oh…a book!….Thanks…”   You can tell they’re unenthused.  But if you’ve chosen wisely, the fun is in the next part. 

Six months later, on a rainy Sunday afternoon and with nothing better to do, they finally crack the book open.  A while later, you get a phonecall:

“THAT BOOK!!!” they exclaim.  “Is a GREAT BOOK!!!”  And then they rave on for ten minutes about how much they enjoyed it/are enjoying it. 

It gives me so much satisfaction. 

[Twice, it was about Straight From The Horse’s Ass by Lee Hughes, about a man’s journey on horseback across America, from Canada to Mexico.  Lee hadn’t ridden a horse before he made that journey, so it was a true greenhorn effort.  He had been living in rainy London and saw the movie Dances With Wolves, and it inspired him to do something bold and frontier-like.  It’s a wonderful book, and very funny.

Another time, it was about Anthony Bourdain’s muscular memoir, Kitchen Confidential.  The teenage boy I’d given it to glowed with delight when he thanked me for the book.  I think it’d been a long while since he’d read something that had spoken to him so directly.]

Mao’s last dancer

December 24, 2009

I’m an avid reader, but am often reluctant to recommend specific books as gifts because reader taste varies so widely. 

However one book that I loved reading and has been highly regarded by a wide range of people is “Mao’s Last Dancer”, Li Cunxin’s autobiography about how he was picked from obscurity – on the basis of his physique alone – in a rural Chinese backwater to become a trainee ballet dancer under Mao’s Communist regime.

The story spans how he grappled with life in the big city away from his peasant family, struggled to reconcile his glimpses of Western prosperity with the Communist propaganda he’d been told, and eventually defected to the USA, becoming a successful dancer there and in turn Australia, where he later emigrated to.

Mao’s Last Dancer is nothing less than fascinating, not simply because of the unusual subject matter, but because the book is very well written.  In other hands it could, despite the exotic and dramatic content, have nonetheless been a dull read.  But Li Cunxin writes his story off the page.  Literally, in fact – a movie is being made of it too.

Book humour

November 22, 2009

Books aren’t everybody’s idea of a great gift, but some books are tailor-made to make ideal presents.  Especially if they’re visual and funny.  You can dip in and out of these books as the mood takes you, and share them with the whole family.

Two I’d recommend are Cake Wrecks and Signspotting (actually, Signspotting III, two earlier editions having already been published in recent years).  Both are based around photos – with amusing captions – of real-life cakes and public signs respectively that have gone hilariously, unintentionally wrong. 

Recommended for Christmas, but also make good birthday gifts.

1001 songs

November 18, 2009


I’ve been enjoying reading Toby Cresswell’s tome, 1001 Songs, which comprises short, informative essays on…1001 songs.  The selected tunes range from the 1920s to last week (or so it seems), most being from the 1960s to present day.

This book makes a great gift for any rock and pop music lover, as there is such a wealth of knowledge and opinion to scan through.  It’s perfect for ‘dipping into’ – both to learn more about the songs you know, and also those you don’t – but might want to investigate.

I love some of the trivia in it.  My favourite: how Gladys Knight and The Pips’ famous song ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ was actually inspired by Farrah Fawcett.  Who would have guessed that?  Turns out the songwriter called Lee Majors one evening for some reason, and initially chatted to Lee’s then girlfriend, Farrah – who mentioned that she was currently packing her bags in order to catch the midnight plane to Houston.  And so, ‘Midnight Plane to Houston’ was born – but Gladys Knight, who loved the tune, wisely suggested the change of vehicle and destination.