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Pickle Me This

November 29, 2018

Gifts

There comes a point when one’s books enthusiasm reaches a certain height at which people just stop giving you books altogether. Because you’ve probably read it already, or if you haven’t, there’s a good reason why not, and either way, you’re probably so overwhelmed with books already that you’re hardly in need of another. And I lament this, the loss of books wrapped up with a bow, because books have always been my favourite gifts to receive. But at the same time, yes, I probably have already read it, or there’s a good reason why I never did. Because part of being a books enthusiast is possessing a very defined sense of what you don’t like too, for better or for worse. 

So I relish those rare occasions where it all works out like serendipity, like the time my friend Jennie gave me Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost after I had my first baby. It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received, an acknowledgement of my identity as a person who was not only a mother, who still deserved something for herself, and could retain an element of who she was before the baby came. Also, because when somebody gives you a book, they give you a world. 

 At Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, they’ve had mystery books wrapped in brown paper so that the costumer doesn’t’ know what they’ve got until they’ve bought it. Risky indeed—but then that was how I ended up with Herman Koch’s The Dinner a few years ago, a book I would never have bought on my own terms, but ended up really appreciating. 

It was such a good experience that not long ago when I ended up in another bookstore (that shall remain unnamed) I was eager to lay down some cash for another mystery book. And once I bought the book, I was reluctant to even open it, for the mystery to be solved, for the anticipation was actually the best part: what was I going to get? What unknown world was I about to discover? And so imagine my disappointment then when I finally unwrapped my package and the book turns out to be The Fucking Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve, an Oprah’s book club pick from 1998, and I think I even read it then, but have no memory of it. A book that every single second-hand bookstore on the planet has at least twenty copies of, willingly or otherwise, and the only way to get anybody to buy them is to wrap them in brown paper. They saw me coming from miles away… 

My faith in bookseller picks was restored a couple of weeks ago, however, when I picked up Let Me Be Like Water, by S.K. Perry, purchased in the summer when we visited the wonderful A Novel Spot Books in Etobicoke. It wasn’t wrapped in brown paper, but it might as well have been, because I knew nothing about it, but it was one of their picks of the year and I mostly bought it because they are very good at selling books there—they made it hard to say no. And then a few weeks ago after a reading rut, I finally picked it up, and I loved it. I was reading it on the Saturday morning and for some reason my paper hadn’t been delivered, and I didn’t care, because it meant I could read the novel all morning while I drank my tea and the sun poured into my kitchen. A book it took an expert reader—a bookseller—to connect me with. A kind of magic indeed. 

One thought on “Gifts”

  1. carin says:

    Oh, that IS cruel. But I laughed anyway. Only because I also read that book 700 years ago and can barely remember it except to know that your title is so much more appropriate than the original.

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