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The Books They Gave Me: True Stories of Life, Love, and Lit Hardcover – November 6, 2012
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About the Author
After a decade and a half spent in Chicago, where she worked as a freelance writer and served as a founding contributing editor of Digital Scrapbooking Magazine, Jennifer Adams moved to New York to be closer to The Strand. She is at work on a variety of projects, including a zombie novel for middle-grades readers. She blogs sporadically at Jen-Adams.com. She lives in Astoria, New York, and is the mother of two boys.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
J. Alfred Prufrock measured his life out in coffee spoons. I measure mine out in pages. I am the archetypal bookworm, never without a book in my bag and four more in progress on my nightstand. My apartment is filled with books. In fact, when I was looking for a place here in New York, my primary requirement was that the apartment offered enough wall space to house all my bookcases. In short, books are my language, my vocabulary. Every experience in my life is filtered through what I’ve read and somehow processed in prose. I’m constantly reading and constantly writing. And anyone who knows me well must understand and accept this about me. The books are nonnegotiable. They are part of me. They are me.
So, when a man I was dating brought me an especially well-chosen book as a gift, I realized in a flash that, for those of us who live for the written word, books given and received in the context of a relationship can reveal so much. This observation is well documented in popular culture. In Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall, Annie and Alvy sort out their respective books as they are breaking up. Annie realizes that the relationship may have always been doomed—Alvy only ever gave her books with “death” in the title.
In one episode of the late 1980s TV series The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Molly’s ex-husband surprises her at work (in a bookshop, natch) one blustery cold night. Defensively, he says, “You know, I gave Molly some books once. Remember? Twenty-seventh birthday? Twenty-seven books.” Her current lover, bookshop owner Moss, appreciates this. “Books make nice gifts.” But Molly remembers well: “You gave me twenty-seven comic books, Frank. Not real books.” Frank failed the test, without even knowing he was taking one.
Sometimes, we put suitors to the test with full knowledge of what we are doing. In Martin Amis’s novel Money, Martina Twain gives the supplicant John Self a copy of Animal Farm, telling him that he needs to read it. He tries and fails, and never gets very far with Martina.
Books can also have potent influences over us; giving someone the right book at the right time can change his life forever—to wit, the little yellow-covered book Lord Henry Wotton gives to Dorian in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. The suggestions of sensual excess in the book set Dorian off on a path that leads to corruption and utter ruin. More often, we hear of books that change lives for the better. In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Beth, Jo, and their sisters are each given a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress as their only Christmas gift in a straitened, wartime year. The book becomes a spiritual guidebook as well as an imaginative one that will illuminate and shape their lives. And the effect of books on real people’s lives can be as powerful, as the stories in The Books They Gave Me will reveal.
At home, as I shelved my boyfriend’s gift book, I touched the spines of other books I’d been given by men I’d loved. The beautiful hardcover edition of the complete poems of William Blake. A picture book, a tongue-in-cheek response to the rise of the e-book. A slim little paperback reprint of lyric poetry. Each of them, I realized, said something important about who we were at that moment. The books I own tell my life story, and the ones given me by the people I love offer special insight into the experiences that have made me who I am.
I began to collect stories of gifted books, and decided to compile them in that most modern of diaristic forms, the blog. Stories began to pour in to TheBooksTheyGaveMe.com from all over the world as word spread and other readers decided to share their experiences. Some are wryly funny; some will make you cry or ball your fists in anger. I began saving the best of them, having realized that a book compiling these stories is one that I’d love to read and own.
I’ve been moved profoundly by my readers’ submissions. They’ve told me of their loves, those they lost and those they’re lucky enough to be with. Their books are an important part of their identities and their personal histories. There’s something magical about this blog and the reaction to it—it is causing people to look at their shelves—and at the habit of owning, sharing, and giving books—with new eyes.
In this age of the e-book, part of the appeal of being given a hard copy book as a gift is its tangible timelessness. Books are real. You can give a book as a gift. Kindles are great for reading on the subway, and they get people to read more than they might otherwise, but they are flatly unromantic. Paper books offer a kind of permanent charm. They don’t expire; they can’t disappear in a power surge. Books last. I’m not with any of those men anymore, but I still have the books they gave me.
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THE BOOKS THEY GAVE ME: True Stories of Life and Love collects 200 stories originally posted at TheBooksTheyGaveMe.com. It's exactly what it sounds like. People share the stories of books they were given as gifts by lovers, relatives, and friends. Sometimes the book brings about an epiphany. Sometimes it is loved; other times hated; sometimes left unread. Each vignette is an intimate peek into a relationship.
I meant to only read a few stories at a time, but once I started it was hard to stop. THE BOOKS THEY GAVE ME showcases the many ways a book can affect someone's life. And you never know which stories will end happily, sadly, or somewhere in between. Sometimes you might take sides between the receiver and the giver. But the stories never start to sound the same.
THE BOOKS THEY GAVE ME is a great gift for someone else. But if you love books, it might be a good gift to buy yourself. At the very least peruse Jen Adams' tumblr (linked above) to get a taste of the wonderful stories she's collected.
I was given the book, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, when I was younger by my Aunt Pat. I loved that book and read it every night until I had every poem there memorized. This book really opened my eyes to the funny things that people say, do and other peoples imagination. I read and I laughed and I loved that book and the others that followed it. What a wonderful gift that I have now given to my children to enjoy. I love books because they are gifts that keep giving...year after year after year.
This book reminds me of the Post Secret Series of books, which I love. This is a book about books that anyone who reads and enjoys the written word will also love. I may not have agreed with everyone's ideas of why the books were important, but I respect their opinions and enjoyed the insight it gave me into those books, even the ones I have read.
I received this book for review and was not monetarily compensated for my review.
I received a copy from the author in exchange for my honest review.
ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT
BOOK PORN. Plain and simple, this is as good as it gets for us book lovers. If you enjoy reading Post Secret and really want to know why someone gifted a certain book or why that person enjoyed it or hated it, this is your peek into that their thinking. I love reading stuff like this. There is a wide range of emotions, everything from "why did I get this" to "this means so much". Much like The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, this is one you can pick up and read whenever you like. Probably my favorite from the whole collection is one where lovers gifted each other books and they both wrote essentially that the romance was over with this exchange.
This is one of those vicarious experiences that let you peek into the minds of like minded people. I know I had a lot of these books on my shelves or had read them in the past and it was really interesting to find what these same books had meant to them. I will revisit many times since it lends itself to rereading. I think that this would make the perfect gift for that book lover that has read everything.