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(Image via Seanmfreese)

We’re readers. We like books. I think that goes without saying. We also like giving and receiving books as gifts, but those actions bring their own special set of problems. When you pick out a book for yourself, you know what you like and what you’re in the mood to read, but how does that translate into picking books for other people? Conversely, how do your nearest and dearest pick books for you? And (horror!) what happens if you don’t like the book you’re given?

I’ve received some awesome books as gifts (like Yiddish with Dick and Jane from a friend who knew I was about to start working toward my MA in Jewish Studies). I’ve also received some epic stinkers. Interestingly, both bookish gifts were from the same well-meaning friend. I’ve recommended books to people that they’ve enjoyed (like City and the City) and books they just couldn’t get into (like Perdido Street Station), and both of these recommendations were by the same author and to the same friend.

So, really, what the heck?

Bottom line, I think we need to remember that one size does not fit all. It’s true in clothes, and it’s true in books. When I recommend or gift books, I try to give something that I’ve enjoyed myself that also meshes with the interests of the receiver. It seems like common sense, but I think that, as enthusiastic readers of whatever we happen to enjoy, we semi-automatically think that other people will be just as enthusiastic and appreciative as we are. But if your friend only reads non-fiction? Don’t give her steampunk. If he likes to cook? Do consider giving him something by Anthony Bourdain. Yes, sometimes, you just need your BFF to read your Most Favorite Book Ever. But the bottom line is the gift or recommendation is more about the receiver, not the giver. You are not Seth Cohen. You do not need to educate your friends on the formative pieces of your psyche.

And what about regifting? Dude. Give that book a good home. This also goes for books that you’ve read once and know you won’t re-read. If nothing else, it’ll give you room for more books that you actually like. And we all want that. One final piece of advice: If you love, love, love the book you’re recommending? Pony up and buy a copy for your friend. Chances are, you’ll be sad you gave away your copy, and you’ll have to replace it a few months down the road, if for no other reason than you miss seeing it on your bookcase.