I love Christmas shopping. Not the actual shopping – the food, and trying to figure out which socks are the right size, and did Great Aunty Helen actually already have a sandwich toaster? – because, to me, that’s an absolute nightmare. No, what I love is the atmosphere – the lights, the beautiful displays, the sound of carols and Christmas songs filterign through the air, the myriad smells of food cooking on the street stalls, the quirky gifts that you can find, especially those ones that have been lovingly created by a real human being, where you can tell that time and energy has been poured into them.
This latter is how I see books: one of the quirky gifts. The story itself has been created in the author’s head, then formed, layers added to build it into a narrative, its separate parts dovetailed then worked on until it has perfectly working joins, sanded into seamless storytelling, varnished and finally displayed in its own individual, beautiful form. How exciting is that – to be able to read the ideas that have been created in a writer’s imagination, and encapsulated in such a tangible form?! As you read this post, you’ll notice how much I value the opportunity of being able to give books at Christmas, as much as being a recipient of them.
My absolute favourite place to be at Christmastime is a bookshop. In truth, you’d be hard pushed to keep me out of them all year round, but there’s something extra cosy, extra exciting, about being there knowing I’m choosing something for a loved one to read. To me, giving a book is a more modern development of the tradition of oral storytelling. We all absorb story in many ways every day, from novels to conversations to adverts on the TV, and in many more ways, too. Instead of passing a story on to others around a fire, it’s become a physical (or digital, or audio) form that enables the recipient of the story to engage with their imagination on a deep level, and at their own pace. The book itself acts as a conduit between the author’s imagination and the reader’s innate desire for story. We need them to act as an overarching metaphor, a point of identity with a character or a situation, or with choices and consequences, to help make sense of our own lives.
As a voracious reader, I consume story in as many ways as possible. But I have to say that there is something special about holding a book in my hands, smelling the pages (yes, I do that!), leafing through the sheets and sheets that contain insights that I wouldn’t ever have been able to experience in the way that I do, had the invention of the printing press never come into existence. But, for me, the experience is magnified during the cold UK winter weather, as the rain batters on the bookshop windows and dusk becomes darkness outside. The bookshop becomes a haven, a cosy-lit home-from-home for book lovers. The place is wallpapered with bookshelves, carpeted with tables of new, bestselling and on-offer novels, and you can often sit and read the books you buy or – in some bookshops – before you do so. What I especially love is that the people around me are all there doing exactly the same as me, and chances are they’re as much of a bibliophile as I am!
I remember going into bookshops as a child, determined that I was going to:
a) buy everyone in my entire family a book to read for Christmas because I loved choosing the books, loved the secret shenanigans I got up to beforehand as I tried to discover which books in a series they’d already got and which they still needed, and because they were easy to wrap nicely(!), and
b) point out to the adult(s) with me which books I really thought were amazing, and stand looking longingly at them – surely someone would take the hint… (you can’t blame a book-obsessed girl for trying!).
What I have never forgotten, however, is the sheer wonder I experienced while taking the time to choose presents for my loved ones. My perusals which led to learning about so many more genres than I read myself at the time, elation at being surrounded by so many books in general and the shelves and shelves of Agatha Christie books in particular (my local branch of WH Smith at the time had an entire wall devoted to Christie novels), and the ultimate book-buying that connected us through a love of reading, even if that’s not what I realised I was doing at the time. A gift from one reader to another, for me, is something very special and personal. Nowadays, of course, we can choose to buy paperbacks and hardbacks, or gift e-books instead. We can even give people the opportunity of reading with their ears through audiobooks – something I wish I’d been able to offer up as presents for certain members of my family when I was a child. There really is something for everyone nowadays. And I truly think that’s wonderful.
If you are planning on buying books as Christmas presents this year, I hope you have as much fun doing it as I do. And if you open up your presents on Christmas Day and find that someone has taken the time to try and connect with your imagination through a story they think you’ll love, then you have, in my opinion, been given a gift that will keep on giving. It will give love to you every time you read it, or think about it, or when it inspires your own imagination or wish to devour more stories.
Our real lives revolve around the story we live every day. Not all of us are fortunate enough to be able to choose how that story plays out, either some or all of that time. So, at Christmastime, why not let someone you know have the enjoyment of living in their imaginations with the characters that authors have created for those who love the kinds of stories they offer up as gifts, so that we can lose ourselves in them? It might turn out to be the best gift you could ever give.
(It would be remiss of me – as an author – to not throw in a cheeky quick mention my own books here. If you’d like to see the ones I have on offer, you can find all my books here. Maybe you could stuff a loved one’s new reading device with e-books, or grab a paperback stocking filler for the suspense reader in your life.)
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