Reading is not often thought of as a particularly risky passion. Sure, you can argue that it expands your mind to dangerously new heights or that books are addictive. But overall, it’s a safer choice than, let’s say, skydiving, or training poisonous snakes, or recreating “Die Hard” car chase scenes.
That being said, when the holiday season comes around and everyone emerges from Thanksgiving feasts dazed and confused, only to realize, “oh no, oh no, I still have to figure out gifts,” well — it can be dangerous to be known as a reader. I don’t mean dangerous because people assume you carry a library in your backpack, or can recite the full works of Shakespeare on command, or have no life except the one between the sheets (sheets of paper, I mean).
No, the problem with friends and family knowing you love reading is that when it comes to holiday gift-giving, they have a tendency to latch onto this fact like it’s their dying salvation. This leads to some disastrously awful gifts, which are, for some reason, never actually books. Here are the six worst ones:
*Exclusive* Book Club Invitation — This holiday, you are given the chance, nay, the privilege of attending your grandmother’s bi-monthly, feminist book club called “Madame (b)Ovaries,” which meets every other Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in the bingo room of her retirement home. Their January book of the month? “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The complete trilogy.
Bedazzled Bookmark — Yes, that’s right, readers might act like they only care about a book’s content and not its appearance, but your aunt Olga (the one that always treats singing “Happy Birthday” like it’s her solo at Carnegie Hall) knows that secretly what you’ve been lusting after is a bejeweled, neon pink bookmark with more bling on it than a Tiffany’s store. She even had it engraved with your initials. Because, you know, the real reason you carry that heavy book around is to show off your bookmark collection, right?
Framed Jane Austen Quote — One of those artsy posters with three different types of cursive font on it, featuring a famous Jane Austen quote that’s been slightly misquoted, like, “There is no charm equal to the tenderness of love” or “Those who do not complain are never forgiven.” The perfect addition to your tastefully decorated dorm room. It’s like something a 55-year-old suburban housewife might have bought in the home décor section of Target.
Stuffed Author — Your family members are some of the people closest to you. And so they know that what you, a 20-year-old college student double majoring in anthropology and gender studies, really want is a plushie version of a famous dead, male, white author, like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Mark Twain.
Book-Inspired Perfume Set — Everyone knows that readers find nothing sexier than the smell of musty, old manuscripts or a dusty, used bookstore. Obviously the next logical step would be to assume that readers themselves also want to smell this way. And so, I give you the book-inspired perfume set. My favorite is “Scent No. 4: Shakespeare’s Quill Ink.”
Book-Turned-Cacti Pot — This one hurts me to the bone. It’s one of those DIY craft projects you see on Pinterest boards, where the middle of a book is carved out to create a space for a cacti to go. For readers, the written word is near-holy, so the idea of destroying a book for an art project is blasphemous. It’s like Martha Stewart met the book destroyers in “Fahrenheit 451,” but instead of the book burning, it’s cut up to make a cactus holder. As a reader, I’ve never seen anything more horrifying (except maybe the time my sister used my copy of “Lolita” as a coaster).
There’s a famous quote by a still-alive old white author, Garrison Keillor, about books and gifts that goes, “A book is a gift you can open again and again.” This might be true of actual books, but when it comes to book-inspired gifts like the ones above, I think the world would be a better place if no one had to open these gifts ever again.
Samantha Resnick is a senior at Pomona College. She likes reading words, and sometimes, she likes writing them, too.