"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one."
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Grace Hemingway gifted her son, Earnest, a copy of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem Hiawatha soon after his sixth birthday. The inscription read, “Ernest Miller Hemingway / from his loving mother / Aug. 1st, 1905 / Windemere”

While Earnest Hemingway’s relationship with his mother wasn’t the best one (in fact he ended up hating his mother for the rest of his life), one has to wonder how much her choice of gifts influenced him at the time. After all, he grew up to become one of the most famous literary writers in history.

Many writers get this question from curious, doubtful students. “Can writing be taught?” The answer to this also applies to teaching the love of reading–you can only develop what’s already there. Human motivation is a tricky subject to understand. You can’t just “find” motivation or force it. If you are naturally drawn to writing or reading because of your love for words and stories you’ll find it easy to do those things. But if you aren’t it’s going to feel like work and you’ll have to force yourself to do it, which is no fun.


A Girl Reading Her Book

14 Worthy Gifts for Readers and Book Lovers

Gift ideas for readers and people who love books. A collection of some loveable gifts that bibliophiles in ...

Do books make good gifts?

A nice bookshelf full of books

The short answer: it depends. The long answer: You need to consider a a few things first. Does your recipient love to read and find themself being a kid in a literary candy store when inside a bookstore? Or are they casual readers who are only interested in books to make themselves sound smart and relevant in a conversation. The former will be thrilled by finding a good book inside a wrapped gift box, the latter are likely to be disappointed. Also, not all books are created equal.

Even the most voracious reader won’t be pleased by getting a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird if they own one already or maybe more courtesy of more like minded gift givers who had the idea.

To answer your question in simplistic terms, yes books can make good gifts provided you consider a few things:

What kind of a reader are you dealing with?

As I’ve mentioned before, not all readers are the same. If on a scale of 1 - 10, one being your average reader who reads a couple of books a year to ten being someone who prefers books over actual people most times of the day, you are more likely to please your recipient with a book the higher they fall on the scale.

Does your idea of an interesting book match theirs?

You need to have some relationship with the recipient to know this. If you have a lot of common interests, let’s say you both are fascinated by history, love to travel and can’t have enough of Pink Floyd music, you can give them a book you found interesting related to these interests and they’ll likely enjoy it. It’s all about passion, in this case.

Don’t make a mistake of assuming that their mild interest in something you like is a sign of passion. Just because they enjoy listening to Pink Floyd with you doesn’t mean they’ll be interested in reading the tragic biography of Syd Barrett.

What are they expecting for a gift?

Let’s face it, part of the appeal of books as gift choices is that they’re convenient. Easy to find, buy and least likely to offend (Giving them a book they don’t like is a lot less upsetting than giving a t-shirt that’s one size too small.)

Don’t be lazy. If someone has put in efforts into their gift for you, you should also do the same when it’s your turn. If someone gifted you a nice purse that suits your style, they’ll expect you to be a little thoughtful when picking them a gift. Don’t go to the NYtimes bestseller list and pick the first book you think they might enjoy.

Is there a better alternative?

Just think about the book you’re planning to gift to them and then think of an alternative gift idea. Make a guess: Which one will they prefer? Go with your instincts.

The risks involved with gifting books

A person sleeping with a book over their face

How can gifting a book to someone go wrong? After all, isn’t the gift of knowledge the greatest? Not too fast, my virtuous friend. You are not Socrates and neither does your recipient think you are.

  • They may have read it already, or worse, own a copy. In which case your gift will end up in their closest used book store - also, chances are that the book you thought of giving them also crossed the minds of at least a couple of their other friends.

  • They might not be as into reading as you think they are.

  • They’d rather prefer something else as a gift.

When is it a good idea to gift a book?

Books can make for charming gifts but there’s a time and place for them. If that’s your default choice for everyone, you are overdoing it or likely annoying some of your recipients. Here’s a few things to consider before making that choice.

When it’s a common interest you both share are often talk about.

If you share something you’re both equally passionate about, let’s say you’re both aspiring filmmakers and you know a good book written by a director that you think they’ll be interested in reading.

When they’ve gifted you a good book in the past.

Giving a gift to someone is much more than a simple exchange of goods. When it comes to relationships and friendships, context plays an important role. The history you share with your friend will impact how they perceive your gift. If it is established that you’re both readers and they’ve given you a book as a gift before, you can carry on the tradition and put some efforts into finding a book they’ll enjoy.

When you found a rare copy of a book they love.

Do they have a favorite? If your recipient is very special person to you, it is worth the time to try and find a rare copy (first editions, signed copies) of a book to give to them. They’ll be delighted by the effort.

When it’s useful.

Is your friend stuck in a rut and in need of some motivation? You can gift them a book that has given you comfort or inspiration in the past.



If you’re not good with interpreting social cues you’re going to mess this up so skip this.

Also, not mainstream yet useful guides related to their career are helpful (Avoid this if they’re too proud and sensitive. They might consider this as an insinuation that they’re incompetant.) For example if your recipient is an aspiring writer you can gift them a copy of Reading like a writer by Francine Prose, a good yet not obvious writing guide.

Avoid self help books. They’re useless, lame and sometimes counterproductive. You don’t want to be the source of that.

Should you write an inscription?

I’ve heard some arguments against writing inscriptions on books you are gifting to someone. Some suggest you shouldn’t write one unless it’s a book you’ve written yourself.

My take on this is this: It’s better to write one, even a simple one, when the book is a gift for someone who’s close to you.

A book when received as a gift has meaning to the recipient by itself if you’ve put some thought into it. Let’s say your recipient very much enjoys reading about history and you gift them a book titled The Secret History of World War 2. Your choice conveys your understanding of their interests and hence is pleasing to them.

An inscription adds to the appeal of your gift by making it more personal. Without an inscription, although still meaningful, the book is just a book indistinguishable from hundreds of thousands of copies out there. With it though it’s a unique one.

Inscriptions also appeal to the side of us that needs to feel special. Someone taking the time and effort to add that personal touch to the gift is somehow flattering to those who read it. Not writing one, on the other hand, subconsciously gives the impression that you couldn’t be bothered to spend a few seconds to write anything.

A case for not penning down an inscription is that it makes it easier for them to pass it on to someone else if they don’t like the book.

If the book is for someone who you wouldn’t care much about if they don’t like it (say an acquaintance you don’t know very well) then you can omit it, but if it’s for someone close to you, write one.

How creative you want to be with it is up to you. Although writing a simple one would suffice.

Try literary gift boxes

Book Lover Gift Box

To increase the chances that your gift choice succeeds, try giving a literary gift box instead of just a book. If you’ve followed all the steps above to make sure you hit the mark with your choice of the book for your recipient, if you’re unsure, adding a bit more stuff will do the trick.

To make one just get a box and fill it with some useful stuff for readers: a good book, bookmarks, page holder, reading light, literary postcards, chocolates, candles, snacks, etc.

Note: Putting multiple items in your gift will lower the value of each in your recipient’s mind, so if your gift is more personal just stick to a single book.

Hardcover vs. Paperback - Which makes for a better gift?

Wondering if you should give your recipient a hardcover or a paperback? There is no universal preference among readers. Some like the paperbacks because of the convenience (easy to carry around and travel with) others prefer hardcovers because they’re more traditional and last much longer.

My take: if you have the option go with the hardcover version. It’ll make for a more impressive gift.

Even as civilized and rational we think we are, underneath all the facade we’re still animals of nature with instincts and subconscious biases guiding our behaviour. We perceive a gift that feels heavy as better quality than the lighter one.

And even if you gift them a paperback make sure you pack it in a nice, sturdy box. It’ll make a better impression on your recipient.


Books can make for memorable gifts but they’re not for every recipient. To get the best out of it you should target your gift to a person who will appreciate it. Give them only to people you know to be avid readers and know them enough to pick one that they’ll love.

Also, don’t overdo it. A good book gifted thoughtfully will create a pleasant memory–do it all the time and you lose the charm.