Word for Word: Good to give a book and get it right

The joy of Christmas shopping for books: Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop  in Galway city. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

The joy of Christmas shopping for books: Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway city. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy


Choosing books to give as gifts is one of life’s pleasures. The realisation that you have put your finger on exactly what a person might enjoy, followed by the acquisition of a copy, and even its careful wrapping, all make for a warm glow of satisfaction appropriate to this time of year.

To be present at the opening of the gift is a bonus – providing that you have got it right. Emailing a virtual book or a token for downloading it does not provide the same gratification.

Readers of these pages are unlikely to need encouragement to buy books, but perhaps family and friends need a bit of reminding of how much we readers appreciate books. Certain members of my own family, myself included, are given to making lists of books they would like, and although I appreciate the practicality of this, it’s a bit like giving people socks for Christmas, requiring no imagination or research. My needs are such that I’ll still be making my list, but I wouldn’t mind a surprise, too.

Although a good meaty novel or an informative, enjoyable or even challenging piece of nonfiction are fine things to receive, I think it’s the perfect time of year for poetry collections. There’s something about firesides and winter evenings that invites a reflective frame of mind and allows space for the gentler rhythms of poetry to counteract the frenzy of the techonological wizardry and the box sets.

Poetry books don’t get much of a look-in in the mountains of three-for-two-offer books that scream for our attention in most bookshops, but it’s worth seeking them out.

Baby steps
I’m a great advocate of books for children and babies. Anyone over a few months old can experience the joy of looking at brightly coloured pictures, helping to turn the pages and hearing a soothing adult voice read the text. If you would like the child to appreciate the Irish language, there is a remarkably good range of beautifully produced books for children in Irish.

This year I am resolved to buy real books from real booksellers, although I may succumb to the attractions of some of the Irish-language online booksellers – an online search for “leabhair gaeilge” will do the trick – who do a great job to supplement the gaps left by many bookshops.

In these austere days it behoves us all to make a special effort to support Irish booksellers, publishers and writers for at least some of our Christmas choices.

Whether your book shopping is carefully strategised or entails a quick dash to the local newsagent or even a charity shop – where many a literary gem can be found – I wish you all pleasure in giving.

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