Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Give this, not that

I started to write a political post this morning but I decided to take a break and post about something more cheerful--holiday gifts. With Hanukkah and Christmas around the corner, many of us are trying to find uplifting books as gifts for those who are going through trying times. Here are my suggestions for a few of those types:

If you want something for a family member or friend who is expecting a child or has a young child, I recommend the book, The Optimistic Child by Martin Seligmen (my review is here). The book is upbeat and very helpful for new or parents of young children. I don't suggest books such as Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child : Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries for holiday gifts as this might send the message to the parent that they have a problem with the kids, which, of course, they might, but it is not the best idea to let them know this at Christmas. Suggest this excellent book, instead, if you are asked for advice at a later time. Sure, your family member's kids might be driving you bananas with their crummy behavior during the holidays, but it would be best not to rub it in the parent's faces at Christmas but wait until a more opportune moment.

Ditto giving a book such as Albert Ellis's How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything: Yes, Anything for a holiday gift to a depressed friend, it might send the signal that you think they are miserable, which, again, you might, but it would be better to give such a book if sought for advice, not as a gift. Perhaps a more appropriate title would be Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. The title sounds more upbeat and does not include the word miserable in the title, suggesting that is what you think they are.

Finally, for a friend going through a divorce or break--up do not hand them a copy of He's Just Not That Into You: Your Daily Wake-Up Call but rather, give them a more suitable title such as Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. It shows you believe they can be happy again.

Remember, titles mean a lot when giving a gift of a book. Make sure the gift comes across as an act of caring rather than one of criticism. If you have other suggestions for uplifting books that would be good gifts for those who are going through trying times at the holidays, share your selections in the comment section.



Blogger Cham said...

I don't recommend giving any of those books as gifts. The implication is that giver has their life complete together and the receiver should be eternally grateful that said giver has hand-selected a tome that will fix what so obviously ails in the receiver's life. How about giving a nice pair of comfortable socks instead?

Regarding the giving of "You need to be fixed" books. Those should never be given on a holiday where they might be unwrapped in front of friends and family. Instead, one might have a heart to heart with the potential receiver, and if the potential receiver admits they could use some help then the book giver can choose a book and then look it over and explain to the receiver in private about how the book might benefit them. If the potential book receiver doesn't feel they have a problem, don't touch these books with books with a 10 foot pole.

7:49 AM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger Jennifer Stites said...

Cham, I agree. The holidays are filled with enough relived family issues without the fix-it books. If someone shows some interest in a book I'm reading and talking about, I'll offer to send them my copy when finished. But not as a gift.

8:57 AM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Dan Greenburg wrote a humorous book in 1976, "How To Make Yourself Miserable." I gave a copy to my sister whom always seemed to find a cloud for every silver lining. A trait she inherited from my father.

The book is hilarious. Greenburg has true insight into people's self-induced misery and goes from there.

8:58 AM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


All of the books mentioned are fairly upbeat books that do not imply that the receiver needs to be fixed. That was the point of the post, to tell people not to give those types of books. This is a list of suggestions for those who do want to give books--I do get your point though and if books are not your thing, don't give them.

9:10 AM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

I was going to give my cousin some ammo, but then he might think I wanted him to shoot himself, so I decided to give him some wine, but then I worried that it would imply that he is an alcoholic, then I decided to send him a scifi book, but I decided that he would take it as a criticism that he does not read enough, then I decided to send him money, but I worried that he would think that I was telling him to get a better job.

Then I decided to stop the silly projection and just buy him a nice bottle of Grand Marnier, his favorite booze.

Problem solved!


10:02 AM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger javadoug said...


Not really related, but I just read this book, it is wonderful. The audience was my daughter's 7th grade class, but I enjoyed it as well!

12:39 PM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger Marbel said...

I think a book like The Optimistic Child would be a good gift for parents who like to read parenting books.

I received an etiquette book as a wedding gift, which gave me a moment's pause to reflect if I'd been rude to that person. But, I liked having the book around; it was useful at times.

Any gift can be tricky when buying for people who are easily offended or are insecure.

12:41 PM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger TennZen said...

Ditto on Cham, et al

I wouldn't feel comfortable giving self-help books as Christmas gifts. Fiction or humor, even spiritual (if applicable), but not self-help.

I have received many books as gifts over the years but by far, the best one I ever received was an Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. Funny, entertaining, and memorable.

1:22 PM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger Sniggy said...

I was about 9-years-old when my grandfather turned 60 and was getting ready to retire. I found a book that I thought was appropriate, bought it with my own money, and gave it to him during his birthday/retirement party. I realized that I probably shouldn't have done so, even at that age, from the look of bemusement on everyone's face and the little bit of snickering that I heard in the background.

The book was called "How to Grow Old Gracefully." I guess if I gave it to him as an adult, it would have been like an intended joke. Coming from a child, though, with all the innocence attached to it, might have been a little awkward for him. He was very nice and gracious about it, though, and I think he even read it.

I never did give anyone else a book for special occasions after that, except children's books for the kids or the occasional humorous book (e.g. Calvin and Hobbs, P.J. O'Rourke) for the adults. Even with the best of intentions, you never know how a self-help type of book is going to be received.

1:30 PM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger Larry J said...

Both of my stepsons could use self-help books on home repairs (and they know it). I've been giving them tools over the years.

1:37 PM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

I never give a book for the simple fact you cannot know everything someone has read.

3:43 PM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger lovemelikeareptile said...

beat me to the punch.
Dan Greenburg's " How To make Yourself Miserable " the first press from 1966 is a hilarious take on self-flagellation--- with chapters like--

Basics of Self-Torture, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People ( How to Formulate a Reject-Me Image ),
How to Lose Your Job, How to Avoid Deep Romantic Relationships, How to Destroy Deep Romantic Relationships etc -- all in a short 112 page pamplet available on Amazon for about 99 cents + shipping.

Includes hilarious illustrations and graphs-- like

" The Acceptable Failure Range" -- to keep your friends, you must stay in the " Acceptable Failure range"-- too many problems or too many successes relative to their level of problems/success-- and you lose your friends.

" Essential Brooding Equipment for Advanced Practioners"
man sitting in bathroom in pjs, alone, surrounded by--

(g) box of old love letters from someone who rejected you ...

(k)photos of successful classmates , with estimated annual income
(l) obituaries of people younger than you
(m) insurance company life expectancy chart, with used up days crossed off

4:02 PM, December 02, 2008  
Blogger Sparks said...

When my brother and his wife were having their first child, we got them a couple of books that we had also received as gifts. We thought they were so helpful that we wanted to give them to them. We also gave some nice clothes and a monogrammed blanket.

Weeks later at a party, we heard his wife saying to somebody else, very derisively, how we had given them "books" and there was some snickering that followed.

My first reaction was WTF. But then I realized that my brother and his wife are just anti-intellectual. They think that what they know is all they need to know, and they DO NOT READ. Reading is... like... so going back to school... Eeew.

So now I avoid giving books to people unless I know that they read books, are somewhat intellectual, and I have an idea what kind of books they like to read. If I don't have a good idea on a book, they generally appreciate an Amazon gift certificate.

1:34 AM, December 03, 2008  
Blogger Marbel said...

The thing about gifts - whether a book or anything else - you've got to know the person you're giving it to. If I don't know a person well enough to know that a particular gift item would be welcome and enjoyed, well, then I start to wonder - why am I buying this person a gift?

(Impersonal "hostess" gifts taken to holiday gatherings are a separate issue entirely.)

6:29 AM, December 03, 2008  
Blogger Webutante said...

Helen, Just gave THE OPTIMIST CHILD to my children whose little baby boy arrived seven weeks early and is now in the NICU at Beth Israel Hospital. He's doing well and the book is on their bed side table. Great suggestion!

7:59 AM, December 03, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


So glad the book was useful! I am glad all is okay with your grandson--that is the most important thing to be optimistic about.

8:11 AM, December 03, 2008  
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