or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 12/29/08

   January 3rd, 2009

gift bookWhile I was home for Christmas, one of my brothers asked me:

Is it okay to read a book before you give it to someone as a gift?

I thought I'd post it here to see what other people thought, because I'm curious if there is a consensus.

I don't have a firm opinion on this, so I could be swayed. But after I thought about it, giving a pre-read book seemed okay. Having read it means you're better able to know if the person will like it, and you can talk about it with them (I always read the books I give to kids for these reasons).

Also, unlike many other objects, books can be gently used and still be in perfect condition. I like sharing books, and give books to people off my own bookshelf all the time. Usually not as wrapped gifts, but if the only copy I could find of a book someone really wanted was in a used book store, I would have no problem making a gift of it.

So, I think used books make good gifts, so long as they are still readable (but then, I work in a library). Which means, I think the real question is this:

If you buy someone a book as a gift and you read it before you give it to them, do you tell them?

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8 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 12/29/08”

  1. jessamyn west Says:

    I think pre-read books are fine but I have a tendancy to just give obviously used books [neat older books, etc] so it’s obvious that they’ve been read. I think if I was giving someone a newish book I don’t think I’d mention that I’d read that particular book but I’d mention that I’d read the title.

  2. Lisa Says:

    I think reading it first is ok, but no telling, and don’t break the spine!!

  3. Michelle Says:

    I agree with previous comments. I will sometimes pre-read a book that I am giving as a gift, but I never tell the recipient that I have read their copy.

  4. Liz Says:

    I have to disagree – if you’re giving someone a new, storebought (not antique or rare trader) book, they should be the first to read it. Plus, wouldn’t the same title probably be available for the giver to check out at the library…?

    The golden rule of regifting is never regift an item that has been opened or used (unless antique) – shouldn’t the same be true of first-time gifting?

    Giving someone a book copy you’ve already read sounds more like a loan than a gift. Thumbing through the book in the store to see if it would capture the recipient’s interest? Okay. Reading a chapter or more to make sure they’ll like it? Not okay. (again, check it out at the library or persuse it online – lots of sellers have excerpts available)

  5. Read Before You Give? Or Not? « Books Are Good Says:

    […] Before You Give? Or Not? In General, Read, Reading on January 5, 2009 at 1:37 pm A post from Brian Herzog on his blog Swiss Army Librarian raises the question of whether or not it is socially acceptable […]

  6. mm Says:

    I am a librarian who also works in a bookstore, and my bookstore coworkers all generally read things before gifting them. All are extremely careful with books so no marks. I think they are evenly split on whether they confess to reading the book or not.

  7. Auntie Nanuuq Says:

    I usually give books that I have checked out & read from the library, or already own…

    Sometimes I get from from the booksale, especially if they are in great condition….

    Sometimes I give my own copies as gifts!

  8. Liz Says:

    lol – clearly I’m in the minority here, but I still don’t get it – would you buy a sweater for someone, wear it very gently, then wrap it up and give it to them as a gift?

    If you do give someone a book (copy) you’ve already read, it seems to me that one shouldn’t lie about it – if you feel you have to hide something, should you really be doing it in the first place…?