The Holidays can make the strangest of bedfellows, no? And here I don’t mean that awkward combination of cousins in Grandma’s guest room, but rather gifts, givers, and books. One of the deep mysteries of working the retail Season, as it were, has always been the unlikely and unpredictable popularity of this or that title as the perfect gift… for somebody.
As someone whose own list of required reading has always run to the counterintuitive, I have great sympathy for anyone who’s ever had to buy me a present. (For years, the beloved husband employed a mutual, equally bookish friend, with whom I went on book-crawls regularly, to suggest rare and probably expensive titles to be purchased for birthdays, Christmas and the like. If I coveted something and could not afford it, this not-so-secret Santa & Helper would, between them, find a way. Thus my first edition Max Beerbohms, among other treasures. In case of a fire, the husband knows to save first himself, then the Beerbohms, then me.) Far be it then for me to judge. Nevertheless, every year at the bookstore, I am amazed at some of the more unusual items read off of lists by some fairly implausible customers. For whom, I always think, might this particular person be buying that particular book?
Anyone who has sold books as long as I have will have a list. There will always be some story of the shy, young sylph requesting Warhammer novels, or the hoydenish duffer with an unexpected penchant for the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer. Beyond these cliches of diversity though, there is something rather special about the good-hearted souls who come in this time of year specially, looking to fulfill a promise, with nothing but a title that must be spelt to be communicated to the clerk, or nowadays, with a picture on a phone of a book the customer may even be a bit embarrassed to say, or simply with something hastily scribbled on a note, something that may or may not prove to be the title of a book. No idea what it is. Might be anything. Sometimes, I’m as shocked as the customer once we’ve figured it out and found the book. Still, if X wants it, Y will do his or her best to buy it.
As Charles W. Chesnutt famously wrote, “The workings of the human heart are the profoundest mystery of the universe.” Indeed.
That in mind, here are just three of the least likely Holiday purchases, at least one of them something of a bestseller already, that have made someone’s gift-list. Two of the three, by the way, I wouldn’t much mind seeing under the tree this year myself, come to that. (I’ll let the reader decide which one of the following is likely to produce a shocked and ungrateful silence. Won’t be hard.) We want what we want, readers. Thanks be.