A Glass of Blessings, Barbara Pym, Boris Johnson, British Library Crime Classics, Calamity in Kent, Death in Fancy Dress, Death Makes a Prophet, Excellent Women, How Novels Work, John Mullan, Marital harmony, Mystery in White, National Coal Board, Rumpole of the Bailey, The 12.30 from Croydon, The Division Bell Mystery, The Sussex Downs Murder, Whisky, William Hague, William Pitt the Younger
How do you make sure you get the books you want for Christmas? Asking for a friend.
The friend in question has a birthday in December, so this is something that looms large for him at this time of year. He is known to like detective novels, especially from the Golden Age, so if things are just left to chance there is the risk that he will get any number of the excellent British Library Crime Classics series that he already has. How many copies of Death in Fancy Dress and The Sussex Downs Murder can his bookshelf stock, when what he’d actually like is The Division Bell Mystery or The 12.30 from Croydon?
One answer is to drop hints. But not everyone has a good ear for hints, or takes the further hint to pass these hints on to other potential donors. This form of chain letter can easily get broken, or turn into a game of Chinese Whispers, in which what started life as William Hague’s biography of Pitt the Younger materialises under the Christmas tree as the National Coal Board’s Yearbook for 1975.
So my friend has adopted the practice of making no bones about it but distributing to his nearest and dearest a list of the presents he would like to see in December. This list is mostly books, but the words ‘good whisky’ do appear there, as does a box set of the Rumpole of the Bailey TV series. It is then left to the nearest and dearest to liaise, so that the aforesaid NCB Yearbook doesn’t jostle under the tree on Christmas morning with three copies of How Novels Work by John Mullan.
The list has to be specific. For example, my friend has recently been introduced to Barbara Pym by a ninevoice, so the list reads, “Any novel by Barbara Pym except A Glass of Blessings or Excellent Women.” This gets rather strange-looking (and off-putting to anyone getting the list who isn’t in the ‘nearest and dearest’ category) when we get to the aforesaid British Library books: “Any in the series of The British Library Crime Classics: I already have Mystery in White, Calamity in Kent, Death Makes a Prophet … [etc etc]”.
You may say, this prescriptive approach eliminates surprise, and the chance of being given something quite new. In fact it doesn’t quite work like that. Present-givers still do make their own decisions, which can prompt the “Why did they think I’d like this?” question. And this way my friend’s library can get unexpected additions, like a biography of our present Prime Minister last year …
There is a related problem. Asking for books mean that you get, well, more books. You may run out of bookshelf space.
I find My friend finds that books he has recently been given have to share floor space with box files, unhung pictures, shoeboxes of what were once thought to be essential photos, and the like. This can lead to friction in the marital home.
How do you do it? What advice should I, er, pass on to my friend?