Against best books

It’s the time of year when media outlets are publishing gift guides and “best books of the year” lists. I am contributing a suggestion to my own local newspaper’s holiday book recommendations. And it might sound contrarian, but I’m not recommending a book. Here’s what I’m submitting instead:

I spent days considering what book to recommend. Every time I settled on one, I reconsidered. My idea of the perfect gift book is not going to be yours, and might work for your sister but not for your grandfather, your niece, or your teen. So I suggest the gift of professional reading advice.

This year, wrap a library card application and a gift card to your local independent bookstore. These two places offer what no big box or online mega-seller can: good old fashioned readers’ advisory. In other words, staff who can help anyone who walks through the door choose a book after a few minutes’ conversation. Both libraries and indie bookstores have e-books as well, so this gift works for even your most techie friend. If he already has a library card but hardly ever uses it, pick up or print out the latest brochure on the library’s services and activities, which have probably changed in the past few years. If your gift recipient uses the library regularly, honor her with a donation.

I’d include a short guide to excellent readers’ websites, apps,blogs, and podcasts, like Goodreads, Books on the Nightstand, NancyPearl.com, ReadKiddoRead, or LibraryThing. Visit these sites, copy and paste information about them onto one neat page, and print it on pretty paper. Add a homemade coupon good for an outing with you to the library or bookstore and a treat after, and you’ll give a gift unique to each recipient that no one will return.

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