It's the 21st of December and you're bracing the crowds one final time to finally tick off what feels like a never ending list. You stand, hands tingling and cracking with the bite of Winter, taking a deep breath and wondering where to brave next. And then you see it. "Give someone you love a book this Christmas" sparkling and twinkling in the glassy shop front ahead of you. The covers shiny, each sleeve intact and inviting. Now, which one to choose?
2016, in all it has given and brought us this year, has notably been the year where I have finally felt like a (semi) adult. Perhaps it was moving to London, being promoted at work, finally taking control of my finances (well, I'm getting there) or endlessly doing washing and apologising to friends for not replying to messages straight away because life suddenly gets in the way, that spurred this on. Or it could be that Christmas is on its way and it's that time of year once again to put up the tree and adorn it with baubles packed with festive spirit and nostalgia.
Christmas, as a child, marked a time of great anticipation and sheer overjoy - counting down from September excitedly, wishing time would just melt away in front of my eyes just like the roaring fire in the living room. It also heavily featured the Argos catalogue. Swirling round things I thought I needed, jotting down item codes you needed a magnifying glass to read, and most importantly highlighting the "AND it's only £7.99 for this rotating, multicoloured disco ball. £7.99! For endless fun and solo room raves for a 14-year-old" price. What.a.bargain.
But it's having new found financial independence as a mid-twenties I-am-a-spender-but-trying-to-be-a-saver that actually the best gift I want to give and would love to receive, is in fact a book. Or, ya know, ten.
Because when you give someone you love a book you're saying "I've thought about this, in the hope that you'll like this. I really hope you like this."
When you're younger, books can feel stuffy, stifling, and a bit dull when compared to a shiny new bike or glossy toy you've been bombarded with adverts about. But finding, selecting, and choosing a book is not just giving someone a few hundred pages with some words on it. It's giving the potential to unlock new found understanding, an appreciation for feeling emotionally invested in a protagonist, and a special affinity with the imagination of someone you will probably never meet. That is the real gift of a book.
It's gone from wanting things around you to wanting to see and do as much available from the things around you. Travel, exploring, listening to music, and reading as much as possible is what I now crave to spend my spare time on...though I definitely did appreciate that rotating disco ball circa 2005.
And it doesn't just have to be books with the spines intact and pages bereft of all dog ears. Second hand books are just as thoughtful, in fact at times they can be more so. Local charity shops have some of the best hidden gems out there (the 19th and 20th Century Tennyson and Browning collections keeping my contemporary novels company on my bookshelf will tell you.) By digging through shelves of unevenly stacked, juxtaposed literature, you're investing not just time and effort in to your selection, you're packing it with patience and thought.
Because with second hand books, you're giving someone else a story within a story. You're continuing the wider narrative of that collection, and adding to it, whilst enabling its content to ricochet through time just that bit further.
I mean, a smart phone is always welcome. But a good old fashioned, dusty or pristine, new-book-smelling book is always something to embrace. Because Jay Kristoff was right; "the books we love, they love us back. And just as we mark our places in the pages, those pages leave their marks on us." Books can open your mind as a child or an adult.
And whilst it can be intimidating to even consider getting a book for some of those we know; avid book readers who probably have everything ever written already, people we don't know well enough, or *gasp* they just don't like reading, it's always worth considering for those you do think would appreciate the gesture. Topped off with a message on the inside sleeve is even better.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find some Penguin Classics in desperate need of a new, warmer home.