‘My favorite book’

‘V[ery] happy 40th / This is my favorite / book – so you / better enjoy!’

What was he thinking? Doesn’t he know that when giving someone a gift – a friend, a relative, a lover, whoever – the thing to try to remember is to give them something they like, not something you like? It’s not always an easy thing to do, and it’s a wonder that there haven’t been more philosophical or psychological treatises written on the delicate art of choosing gifts, including books.

Choosing a book for someone can be the easiest thing in the world, but it can also be a perilous exercise, all the more so when the book involved is the giver’s favourite. Ultimately you wonder to what extent it’s still a gift. After all, it’s the giver‘s favourite, not the receiver’s. Also, offering your favourite book kind of places a burden on the receiver, an obligation to like the damn book just because the giver likes it – and not just to like it, but to like it as much as the giver. Now, you might love the giver, but why should you love the gift as much, if at all? Why should the receiver share the same taste as the giver? That sense of obligation is illustrated here by the latent threat that came with the gift, free of charge: ‘you better enjoy!’

Ultimately, is urging a book on someone productive? I’m not sure. I’d tend to say it’s often counterproductive, unless it’s done in a particular context: leading critics, say, have (had?) the authority to urge books on readers who trust their judgement sufficiently. Their authority is (was?) such that they don’t even have to put the threat into words. It’s simple: if you don’t read the book they recommend, you’ll be out of it, either an ignorant fool or an unfashionable one or both.

Threat or no threat, The Bridge on the Drina got dumped. The giver’s dedication wasn’t enough, and neither was the whole blurb material: recommendations from National Public Radio, the Daily Telegraph, the Times Literary Supplement, not to mention the fact that Ivo Andric won the Nobel Prize for Literature! But even that didn’t do it. It got dumped, and now this copy is mine. And I can’t tell you what it’s worth or whether I’ve enjoyed or whether you better enjoy it, because I haven’t read it either yet.


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