Friday, November 25, 2005

ETC: Holiday Shopping for Book Nerds

Unless they have an online wishlist, book lovers are pains in the ass to shop for. As one of those pains in the ass myself, I didn't realize it until one year, when I was complaining that I hardly ever get books as gifts and somebody finally clued me in that:
  1. everyone always assumes that book nerds are picky as all hell (guilty as charged), and
  2. no one knows what you've already read (fair enough; I barely know what I've already read).
So what do you do if you're tasked with buying holiday gifts for a book nut who has inconsiderately not bothered to register their preferences online?

Clearly, actual books are out. But there's a whole world wide web filled with weird and/or cool book-related gifts out there that will wow the socks off (or charm the pants off, according to your preference) your intended recipient. And fortunately for you, I've corraled them all here under one figurative roof for your perusal.

Everyone loves a
book safe, maybe because it makes us feel all dangerous and subversive and totally prepared, should the need arise, to hide the microfilm. Rusty, for some reason, has two book safes. Perhaps he's a double agent. You can always buy one from the huge selection available here. Or if you're the crafty sort -- or you just don't want to leave a paper trail -- here's how to make one.

Now, a
gift basket specially designed for book lovers is a nice idea. You could always use a service that designs and send them for you. Their "Pamper a Friend" basket includes your choice of novels, magazines, bath and spa goodies, gourmet treats, champagne (optional), bathrobe, slippers or luxurious throw. Or the "Shakespeare Can Be Fun" basket, which includes one or more Shakespearean plays that "the whole family can enjoy" (ha! Not mine!) bundled with paper masks, crowns and more. Or you could pillage their website's inventory and come up with your own combos. Maybe a copy of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days paired with a ride in a hot air balloon? No, seriously, a hot air balloon ride! How cool is that? Think big! It's the holidays, you cheap bastard.

If you have a book-loving kid on your gift list, how about getting them one of these super-slick under-the-blankets reading lights (and maybe pair it with a good kids' book), and confirm your status as coolest aunt or uncle EVER?

Okay, seriously, these Penguin Classics mugs are so awesome, I can't believe someone didn't come up with them earlier. No matter. They made up for lost time by also coming out with these deckchairs.

Did you know the
Library of Congress has a gift shop? That's so cool! (Shut up. It's cool if you're me.) You can go to their online store to order The New York Public Library Home Library System. "For the general book lover or for someone whose ardor for the printed word has led to stacks of yet-to-be-read volumes on floors and other surfaces, here's a great, enjoyable way to keep track of them all."

For the slightly less anal retentive, how about custom bookplates, already engraved with the recipient's name? If your budget's a bit smaller, you can give regular bookplates and let the recipient write their own damn name. Or if your budget's really tiny, get some adhesive printer paper and make your own!

Everyone knows that all the cool kids keep track of their reading habits through self-indulgent, navel-gazing blogs, but your mom and dad and Uncle Bob don't know it. For them, there's the Bookography Journal. Awww... paper journals. Kind of takes you back, doesn't it?

I've always liked the idea of nice bookends... but I'd need about fifty of them to do the job. Still, for smaller or special collections, here are these deluxe sets from the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library.

Now, I know I said that buying books is probably out. But what if the book in question is so special, so totally unique, that there's no way they already have it? Such as -- ta-DA! -- a personalized romance novel. Just provide the recipient's particulars and they can star in their own bodice ripper. Bonus points if you personalize this for a guy.

If heaving bosoms aren't your bag, you can search here for a signed copy of a favourite book. I didn't recognize many of the authors in the directory, but I did spot books by
Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Alexander McCall Smith, and Nigella Lawson.

If you want to go the more international artsy-craftsy route, these handmade Indian book ornaments -- traditionally used as decorations for the Diwali festival -- are actually quite pretty, and since they're sold through The Literacy Site, some of the proceeds go towards a good cause. There are six books in the set, and the pages are blank, so you can either write your own stories or messages in them, or let the recipient do the writing.

I've only read about the game of Authors in
Little Women, but apparently you can still buy it, which is kind of cute, if somewhat twee. ("Twee" is a line upon which we book nerds seem to be destined to teeter.) Maybe a good copy of Little Women and this card game would make a nice gift for someone?

Speaking of twee, those
Magnetic Poetry Kit people have a special edition just for book lovers. Do those hardworking people ever sleep? According to one product reviewer, "The Book Lover kit breathed some new life into the phrases from the Original Magnetic Poetry kit on my fridge." Another wrote, "Some good words, but... some variant conjugations would've been nice." Oooookaaaaaay.

Call me a goof, but I kind of dig this corny vintage "Prose before hos" tee. Good news: it comes in men and women's sizes. ("One size fits all" is one of the biggest lies in retail.)

Nothing says "I give up, World!" like one of these super-deluxe read-in-bed pillows, unless it's one of those pillows paired with a matching LEG WEDGE. (What I love about this site is that they try to deny the truth by calling it a work-in-bed pillow. Ha! Nice try. Still... I want one so bad it hurts. I always knew I'd turn into my grandma eventually, but who knew it would happen so early?)

And on that note, this pretty much wraps things up. ("Wraps"... geddit? Ha.)

One thing, though. This? Don't get this for anybody. Also this. Yikes.

Or you can just eschew the whole book theme entirely and get your loved one a couple of these. I know I want one.


Pomgirl said...

Great post, I bookmarked all those links. I already have a couple of the Penguin mugs but could really do with one of those deckchairs right now.

Thankyou for the ideas.Not sure my boyfriend will agree though when I tell him all about them. In. Great. Detail.
I've already been bugging him about those bookcases you pictured awhile ago.


landismom said...

Okay, I'm totally emailing this post to my husband. Great stuff. Bad t-shirts.

Veronica said...

See, I'm so easy to buy for because I have the wishlist. I'm always like, "If you need some suggestions..." But I'm all excited about these other things now! Anal-retentive cataloging! Read-in-bed pillows! Cute book plates! Who'll get those for me? I need more adoring fans.

Anonymous said...

Buy book, get an exchange voucher (& even without exchange vouchers, most decent booksellers will let you swap a brand new title; if not,get thee to a book exchange). I'd choose yet another Bill Bryson over a tchotchke that couldn't even be recycled.

A lot of the authors on the signed-book page were from the generic British football/telly 'sleb bracket, but no book snob worth their weight in gilded goatskin parchment knickknacks must've clicked at Vikram Seth, Julian Barnes, Kazuo Ishiguro, John McGahern, or are they not well known in North America?

Tammy said...

Thanks, all! This is what happens when you have a baby who takes long naps and too much free time. Heh.

But Anonymous... tchotchkes? Tchotchkes??? I define "tchotchke" as "item that will never be used other than to catch dust." Whereas I can totally picture myself basking in the yard all day whilst lounging in my Penguin deckchair, then roughing out another chapter of the Great Canadian Novel on my fridge door, then retiring for the evening in my 'Prose before hos' tee and pyjama bottoms, taking myself to bed and reclining on my read-in-bed pillow (and matching leg wedge), with a spot of tea at hand in my Penguin P.G. Wodehouse mug, and settling back to enjoy a bodice ripper -- starring me, of course -- that has a personalized bookplate inside the front cover. (I wouldn't want it to fall into strange hands.) Are you saying you can't?

pq said...

a cornucopia of brilliant ideas for booklovers, although: jesus mary and joseph, $200 for a grandma pillow? (which my gran used to call a "husband", btw). anybody know where i can find one of those pillows for cheap?

Anonymous said...

"anybody know where i can find one of those pillows for cheap?"

This is my thing about the 'tchotchkes' - it's a pillow, tarted up as a speciality item. I just get a little heebed out at the whole 'my custom made by Italian artisans bookshelf dusters in the shape of T.S. Eliot's profile display to the world what a book luvver and hence refined person I am', y'know? It's getting to close to the you-are-what-you-consume marketing ideal; I don't need a Alice Munro potholder to prop up my identity, and I kinda get antsy (and unnesscessarily self-righteous) at the suggestion that one could. Yup, a P.G. Wodehouse mug is cute, but personally, it's creeping into Levenger Lifestyle product territory (see Jessa Crispin's article here: about a really smary sounding peddler of this kind of tat)

Confession: Bookplates just give me the dry heaves. I think that they're super affected, but this is a predjudice entirely influenced by my book-flogging days, when we mistakenly ordered a pile of them to sit enticingly on the counter. Of course, they never sold, and I began to think of them as a sort of warning, about the consequence of thinking of our stock in terms of 'lifestyle-related sale items' instead of, y'know, books. Which is why we never stocked tote bags and coffee mugs, a la Borders. Borders is fine, but it wasn't what we were doing.

I do get that, like the calendars at art gallery shops, the sales of much of this stuff potentially subsidises the wider industry, which is cool. But I'd still rather get a book that I could swap at my leisure.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, the Prose before Hos t-shirt link doesn't work--rogue HTML!

Otherwise, this list is awesome, and I'll probably get my sister the Prose t-shirt for Christmas. She's a pain in the ass to shop for.

Tammy said...

Hey there, Erika. I think this link to the tee should work:

Anonymous, I sort of see your point (and you see that I was being semi-facetious in my post, right?). But I don't think I see where having a goofy P.G. Wodehouse mug is all that much of an identity prop. (My "Without me it's just aweso!" t-shirt, now that's an identity prop.) The mug maybe sits on your desk at work. A co-worker idly asks you who the hell P.G. Wodehouse is. You give them way too long an answer, and they wander away before you finish. Sometimes a mug is just a mug, you know?

To put it another way, the onus is on the gifter to know whether the giftee likes such things, and to shop accordingly. The onus is on the giftee to behave graciously if the gifter is wrong.

To put it yet another way (no, no, don't worry... I have time), if a set of bookplates is the worst gift I get this year, I'll consider myself lucky. You want to talk tchotchkes? A circa-Christmas-1996 24" tall plastic Louis Armstrong doll (on a stand), wearing a Santa hat and singing one of three holiday songs at the push of a button -- with articulated jaw movement, no less -- THAT'S a tchotchke. Nine years and one garage sale later, that doll has finally found a good home with a special-needs theatre group. No, that is not a joke.

But I digress. (Why does that keep happening?)

Tammy said...

Oh, now I remember the moral of my story:

There are no wrong tchotchkes, just wrong owners.

I knew I was trying to make a point. If nothing else, though, this gave me the opportunity to satisfy my years-long desire to use the word "tchotchkes" in conversation.

Anonymous said...

you can get a "work in bed" pillow from *gasp* Wal-Mart for 35 bucks. And it has a built in back massager.

Anonymous said...

Barnes and Noble has Book Lovers Trivial Pursuit. Just thought that might be of interest.


Anonymous said...

The Levengers catalog is my porn .... that and A Common Reader. But I'm too cheap to buy all that stuff - especially with a nicely-stocked library & a ridiculously responsive InterLibrary Loan department.