The Perfect Gift?

Many of us know that books make great gifts, and that there is something very special about that perfect book for an important person in one’s life. Yesterday at the shop, I heard perhaps the greatest story in my career to date, illustrating this very concept.

One of our regular customers, who I have seen before, but with whom I had not had a chance to converse at length, came to the counter with her selections. An inquiry about which hardcover copy of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot she should buy turned into a discussion of the advantages of different translations from the Russian. To borrow a phrase from Elaine on Seinfeld, yada yada yada… the customer ends up telling me that, on one of her first trips to the store, she saw that we had two copies of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters

She returned later to purchase one as a gift for her husband, who had been with her during her first visit. Fast forward to their anniversary: he hands her a gift to unwrap, and it’s… the other copy. These two must be a great match for one another, because they both went to some trouble to acquire that perfect gift, and it turned out to be the same book. It is as poignant as The Gift of the Magi, but without the sacrifice. Although they were stuck with an extra copy (I don’t recall either of them returning to attempt an exchange), I imagine they did not mind, because they had, in those two simple objects, an affirmation of their choices more real than they ever could have created on purpose.

The story made my day (alright, let’s be honest, my week – I am certain I will repeat this to anyone who will listen, and probably to many who would rather not, for years to come), and immediately an idea gripped me. I walked to the poetry section and grabbed a postcard edition of Ginsberg’s The Rune, one of two versions I had purchased several years back. The other (better) version, which included Ginsberg’s handwritten version in holograph on the reverse, sold quite some time ago, but this one had been living at my shop for long enough that I decided it was time that it put a smile on someone’s face.

Arriving back at the counter, I handed it to her and said, “This is yours now, too.” I told her about the other version, and suggested that perhaps it would be fun for her and her husband to track down that one together.

She insisted on hugging me in thanks, but I refused to take anything beyond that. Because, after all, owning a bookstore is about stories. Not just the stories contained in all the volumes that cross my desk each day, but the stories of the people I meet, come to know, and in many cases befriend. I am lucky to be in a profession that allows me occasionally to glimpse the effects of the ripples that I send out into the world. So, to everyone who plays a part in making that possible: Thank you. It is the perfect gift.

Published in: on February 6, 2015 at 1:17 PM  Leave a Comment  

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