What Do You Do When You Don't Like a Gift Book?

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By Helen Kossler

Reading Between the Lines

Well, it’s time for all those wonderful Christmas gift books. You know, the ones that friends and family bought that they thought you would just love. Only you don’t. You start them with varying degrees of enthusiasm and before you’re fifty pages into the first one, you realize that you loathe the way the author writes.  Or worse, you are bored but can’t figure out exactly why and put the volume down for anther time.

Then guilt sets in. Out of the blue, without warning, the gifter asks brightly, “How did you like Bimbos from the Seventh Orbit?  Wasn’t the plot great?  And I just loved the way Joe Blow writes. So smart and sexy.”

You wonder if you got a changling—somebody gutted the book and snuck a ringer between the covers. It only looks like the same book. How else to explain that your friend, whom you know to be intelligent and well-read, actually enjoyed this drivel? You smile weakly. Make some inane excuse for not having finished it and then resolve to go back and read the damn thing. You pick it up and look at it. You think that it’s only three hundred pages. You should be able to polish it off in a week at the most.

You open the pages and start again. This time you make it page fifty-three. The end of the longest five-page chapter you’ve ever slogged through. You sigh. There’s no way around it: You don’t like this book. The book everyone is reading and talking about. The one that is going to be made into a Hollywood movie and win an Academy Award. That book.

This is a dilemma. You know that in most cases the author has spent months, even years on the manuscript.  Written and re-written it just to get it right. And something must be right about it because everyone you know seems to have read and enjoyed it.

You aren’t supposed to look a gift horse in the mouth—you didn’t pay for it, so you take what you’re given. What about gift books? When can you give up on a book and tell yourself that you gave it a fair try? One chapter in?  You make several attempts to read the book out of a sense of obligation to the gifter or the author. You suspect it’s your lack of sophistication or literary understanding that is a major contributor to your indifference. But you don’t finish it.

And what do you tell the gifter? The person who hoped this would strengthen the bond of understanding between the two of you? Thanks for a rotten read? Nice cover, clichéd words? Another stinker from Joe Blow who hasn’t written an original word in twenty years?

There’s no easy way around it. You have to smile sheepishly, admit that you’re behind in your reading and you’ve put it at the top of the pile. Then you quietly donate it the library for the book sale.

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