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Gift Giving And ‘Have You Read That Book Yet?’

A photograph of a person holding out a stack of three books

A timely post today, inspired by this article about the question ‘Have you read the book yet?’ I wanted to write my own take on how to deal with the issue, if it can be called an issue.

There are two parts of the tale and they both come under the umbrella question, what do you do? – What do you do when someone asks you if you’ve read the book they gave you and you haven’t, and what do you do when you’re the gift giver? It’s easy enough when you’ve read the book, at least to some extent – it’s difficult when you’ve read the book and didn’t like it – but pretty uncomfortable when you haven’t. I’d put bets on the likelihood that the book you haven’t read is the one you weren’t expecting, specifically a book you’d never heard of that may not have tickled your fancy. That surprised ‘oh’ sound that fades to silence pretty quickly.

I’d place another bet, too – you’ve given books yourself and asked about them. Perhaps you don’t do it any more because you’ve learned from personal experience that it’s awkward, but you’ve done it at some point. And perhaps you no longer ask but you take surreptitious looks towards the person’s bookshelf when they’re not looking, not that that would give you any answers. I know I have. I know I do.

I no longer ask people if they’ve read the book I gave them yet. I figure they’ll tell me if and when they do and that the lack of those words is answer enough. It may make things more comfortable than if I asked, though it’s never going to be completely comfortable. That book is an elephant in the room, you can stay silent all you want but both of you will be thinking about it. But it’s easier to be quiet. It’s easier to not make someone try and find the words to explain why they haven’t, especially when you both know it may not have been a good fit. Only give a friend a book you loved if you genuinely think they’ll love it too.

The last person I gave a chapter book to was heavily pregnant at the time. (Chapter book as opposed to fun, short, books because the actual last book I gave her was the timely Go The F*** To Sleep – hopefully appropriate, too… she’s not told me if she’s read it yet.) Being heavily pregnant is excuse enough but regardless I’d have been silly to think she’d get to it soon even though I knew she might well be reading books up to the last minute. I gave her a book that I loved that I realised, through discussion of favourite genres, she would likely enjoy and she’ll get to it when she gets to it. Similarly she’s not asked me about the book she gave me that I’d mentioned I was interested in, and knows I’m a blogger and editor. We continue to converse on books and from my point of view at least there isn’t an elephant in the room (there’s a baby instead, a lovely one, I might add.)

Unless it’s a book that’s on the person’s wishlist it’s probably best not to ask. I got someone a book I reckoned they’d like because it seemed in keeping with their interests. I hadn’t and haven’t read it but it was pretty popular upon release, enough information for me to make a fair call. I’m sure they’ll tell me if they do read it but considering I wasn’t one hundred percent sure anyway, I am staying well clear of that question. At this point I’m almost hoping they never read it.

Taking an unintentional tip from a relative, reference books and coffee table books may be the way to go. More pictures, less writing, no book of the sort that needs lots of attention or reading cover to cover. I’m a recent recipient of Abandoned Places which features awesome photographs of that derelict, cliff-edge, hotel and Tatooine from the Star Wars films. Generalised reference books work well.

I’m glad the person who gave me book #40 when I’d only read up to book #7 hasn’t asked me if I’ve read the book yet. And I’m thankful that the person who gave me the next book in the series I was reading gave it to me just before I started reading the copy I already had because it was a superb gift regardless of the duality and I wanted to show them I appreciated it. It’s one of the most thoughtful, effort-full, gifts I’ve ever received.

I find blogging provides its own easy answer – ‘no, I haven’t read it; I have to get through my review copies first.’ To which you add the requisite hand gesture to show how tall your pile is and increase the height by half again if it’s not large enough to be an acceptable excuse. That last joke aside, it’s not a lie – book blogging pretty much ensures you have an extensive list of books to read and may well involve an inability to change the order round. Unless you say it in a bad tone of voice, blogging is an acceptable answer to those who know about your hobby, and whilst it may surprise others it might just result in an interesting conversation. I expect authors saying they’ve still research books to get through works in a similar fashion.

What do you do about the question? And have you any stories to share?


Tracy Terry

December 11, 2015, 1:10 pm

Hmm, interesting.

I think everyone who knows me well enough to gift me a book knows about my TBR pile and therefore tends not to ask me if I have read their contribution to it.

That said, I dare say a few have been silently sad/annoyed that their offering hasn’t been so good that it instantly made it to the top of the pile.

Jenny @ Reading the End

December 13, 2015, 2:20 am

I try really hard never to ask this question, because I know that if someone reads the book and likes it, they’ll tell me. The only exception is my big sister, who’s a dear and does her best but doesn’t always remember to tell me when one of my recommendations (slash gifts) has been a success. So I do sometimes ask her. In general, though, I do what you say is wise, and refrain from asking. Best all around.



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