Monday, February 11, 2008

The Gift of Books

My son was seven months old when I gave him his first book. In spite of his tender age, it was not one of those cloth or plastic kinds made for babies, oh, no. The book was a beautifully illustrated and expensive edition of Beatrice Potter’s Tales of Peter Rabbit. Like most young, inexperienced mothers, I was convinced that my son was a genius. After all, he’d already said his first word, “light,” pointing to a lamp. Enough evidence for me—he was ready to read. I sat him down next to me on the sofa and placed the book into his chubby little hands. He examined it front and back, turning it every which way. He opened the pages and patted the pictures happily. Then, looking up at me for approval, he raised the book to his mouth and began to eat it.
It was an impulse I understood completely. There are some books so yummy looking that I would devour them if I could. For me, reading has always been a sensual experience. I lust after books. I love everything about them, how they look, how they feel, and how they smell. I love the heft of them in my hands. If I really, really like a book, I’ve been known to embrace it and pat its cover fondly. That’s probably why folks look at me funny when I’m let loose in a bookstore.
In selecting books for gifts, I look for the most delicious ones. I want any book I give to be treasured for years to come, to be so esthetically appealing that the recipient has the same reaction my son did. I’m not talking eye candy, or glossy coffee table show-offs. A gift book is one you want to sink your teeth into, literally and figuratively. Cookbooks, which I give as wedding presents, are the most obvious example. Because I enjoy both reading and cooking, the most luscious cookbooks are not just edible but readable as well. A perfect example is Frank Stitt’s Southern Table. But, try not to lick the pages.
Nature books tend to be especially scrumptious. When I gave the writer Anne Rivers Siddons a copy of Thomas Pakenham’s remarkable book, Meetings with Remarkable Trees, she held it up to her face and pressed her cheek against it. I’ve given Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, many times but always with a warning: Don’t overindulge. It’s so rich you should savor only a little bit at the time.
If time is a factor and I don’t have the luxury of browsing, sniffing, and feeling my way through the smorgasbord of delectable titles on the shelves, I’ve found the perfect solution. I give a copy of Book Lust by Nancy Pearl. The subtitle is “Recommended Reading for every Mood, Moment, and Reason.” I add “Hunger” to the list, and wish the recipient bon appetite!

Cassandra King
author of Making Waves, The Sunday Wife, The Same Sweet Girls, and Queen of Broken Hearts

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