Have you ever heard of Jolabokaflod, the Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve? Translated to ‘The Christmas Book Flood’, Icelanders spend months pouring over book catalogues in the lead up to Christmas before exchanging books and chocolate on Christmas Eve and spending the night reading together by a cosy fire.
Ok so the cosy fire may in fact be a pool and the hot chocolate may be an icy-pole here down under, but it’s a tradition that my partner and I decided to adopt in our household two years ago and it’s becoming a staple of Christmas for us. We have some rules. As big book-lovers and book-buyers who have lists of books we want strewn around the house, our rules state that: we cannot buy each other a book the other has requested, we cannot buy a book that is already on our to-read or to-buy lists, and we must find a new book within the other’s interests.
You may not want to adopt our rules, but I’m going to guess that if you’re reading this then you’re probably looking at the very least to buy books for your loved ones this Christmas and you’re not really sure where to start. So, here’s a few things my partner and I have learned about picking books for each other and our friends and family.
1. Think about what they already read
This is your first starting point for everything. If your friend reads romance, start looking at romance. If your dad reads comedies, start looking at comedies. When my mum reads for pleasure, she wants easy-to-read, fun and romance. So that’s what I buy her. In the past I’ve bought her books like Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn and The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester. My dad, on the other hand, loves adventure stories and sci-fi. So, for him I look at books like The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers or Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. My partner is a big sci-fi fan and loves film and pop-culture, so last year I bought him Broadcast by Liam Brown. He absolutely devoured it!
There’s no surer way to buy a book that someone will enjoy than to give them something they already enjoy. If you need help finding likeminded books, jump on over to Goodreads and look up some of the books you’ve already seen them read. You’ll find handy little features like ‘Lists with this book’ or ‘other books by this author’ or ‘readers also enjoyed’ to help you narrow down your next choice.
2. Think about other things they like
Perhaps the person you’re buying for isn’t really a big reader and you’re trying to ease them in. Or maybe, it just feels like they’ve read absolutely everything you can get your hands on in their genre of choice. If the person you’re buying for is really into craft, you might want to consider gifting them a quirky craft book. If they like travel or will be travelling soon, you might want to introduce them to a travel writer.
I first discovered Bill Bryson when a friend bought me his book Mother Tongue after going through three years of writing classes with me. I’d never heard of Bill Bryson and it didn’t immediately strike me as the sort of book I’d normally pick up and read, but I loved it. And from that book I discovered the rest of Bill Bryson’s hilarious travel memoirs. Likewise, books like Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford have found their way into my hands due to my feminist interests, and the first book I ever bought for my partner was An Idiot Abroad by Karl Pilkington because he loved the TV series.
Google may also be your best friend here. A simple search of ‘books about xyz’ will return thousands of results for you to peruse.
3. Think about their reading goals
If the person you’re buying for loves to read, they may have already set some goals for themselves: like reading more ‘Australian authors’ or ‘diverse voices’ or ‘books outside their normal genre’. Think about how you can help them achieve those goals. For example, the anthology Defying Doomsday edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench is a book of post-apocalyptic stories where the main characters all live with a variety of disabilities. Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman reads like an Australian historical-fiction to begin with but has a twist that will change everything. Alicia Tuckerman’s If I Tell You is the story of a young girl growing up gay in rural New South Wales.
By thinking carefully about your recipient’s reading goals, you can really take that gift to the next level and help them on their way to reading success. Oh, and if you hadn’t noticed, all three of those books are by Aussie authors!