My first thought? No one’s ever gifted me a book. But then it suddenly came to me that all of my most memorable gifts have been books. I must have taken it for granted, as books have always been an essential part of my existence. But my best childhood Christmas was when I opened a box containing that hardbound collector’s edition of The Hobbit…the green one with the runes etched around the edges and it’s own box to slide it in when you’re finished reading. And upon my first meeting with the man I would later marry, he gifted me with a history book written by Sir Walter Scott who, he had learned through our previous correspondence, was my favorite author. Later, for my birthday, he gave me a 4th edition American Heritage dictionary which prompted, from me, tears of joy and our first spoken “I love you.”
So I’m thankful to Jen Adams for her blog and for this collection of letters. It’s given me cause to reflect on the way books have shaped the relationships in my life. This book is a collection of letters compiled from the Tumblr blog of the same name. In it we read stories of love, like the young man who gifted A Suitable Boy to the girl he liked and hid a declaration of love on the last page. We read stories of failed expectations; the woman whose relationship began with The Sparrow and the joy of sharing that experience with her husband, and ended when she read Children of God alone, unable to connect with him as she once had.
There are inspirational stories of mentors and the ones they inspired. Like the young girl whose French tutor had given her a copy of Le Petit Prince and in experiencing it with her, taught her about courage and a sense of adventure. Or the parents who introduced their misfit son to Amphigorey and his first real connection with a mind similar to his own. Or the professor who offered Rimbaud Complete to his student, leaving an inscription filled with enthusiasm at the opportunity to share this book with her.
These stories are written as narratives. Or as short, humorous quips. Or as anonymous letters to the givers. They are at times hilarious, poignant, romantic, sad. But they are always inspiring, especially to the lover of books. For myself, I’m inspired, now, to give a book whenever that book makes me think of a person. I usually talk myself out of it, wondering whether that person will like the book or not. But books are the language that many of us speak and we must speak it whether or not we are understood. I’m grateful to this collection for making me see that.
The Books They Gave Me is a must have for any bibliophile. It’s an obvious observation, but can’t go unsaid, that this book about giving books is itself a great book to give. It should be kept out and readily available, easy to grab and read in times when you’re feeling alone or you need to be reminded of the importance of your connections with the books in your life. And maybe it will remind you of your own story, as it did for me, of books given and received.
A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Atria Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.