Have you ever had one of those moments, where you’ve had a friend in need and really wanted to help, but weren’t quite sure how?
Perhaps you’ve picked up the phone to your friend in question to find that they’re blubbing maniacally, in fits because their puppy ran away/ate a cable and had to go to the vet/pooed everywhere with such force that they don’t think they’ll ever scrub the stain from their anal mother’s cream carpet (you don’t think they will either, but know far better than to tell the truth in this instance.)
Perhaps you had a fight with your boyfriend over the remote, and you crushed it accidentally with your knee/bum/fist and now he won’t talk to you because of your mad, destructive instincts.
Perhaps your flatmate is just having ‘one of those weeks’, and doesn’t really know how to communicate the goings-on of their inner mind with you. Though you’re really nosey, and you really want to know, and you wish they’d give it up already.
Whatever their problem, you’ve wanted to reach out – but you’re having difficulty. A cup of tea and a cuddle doesn’t look like it’s going to cut it, this time. You’re at a loss as to how to break the ice, and you kind of don’t want to intrude, despite your meddlesome brain begging to differ.
I suggest that, when all else fails – give them a book.
There’s something emotional and intrinsically thoughtful about giving a book that isn’t similarly suggested in giving a card, a scarf, or a cup (because cups are the go-to present for miserable friends, of course. Cups you can fill with alcohol).
When you give a book, there’s an extra degree of thoughtfulness – a subliminal message. Such as:
- ‘Hey, I really loved this – I think you’ll love this too because your brain and my brain are fairly similar and I want to honour that union of brain-juices by giving it to you, padawan.’
- ‘These words have helped me at a tough point in my life, and to prove that I am here for you, I am giving it to you as a form of therapy. Like sharing a hanky, but less gross.’
- ‘This resonates strongly with me within my very SOUL, and as somebody who greatly matters to my very SOUL, I want to use it to heal YOUR SOUL. Even though I hate sharing things I love. Which means that I must love you a lot.’
- ‘Wow, your life really sucks. Only high fantasy is going to get you out of this rut. Your mum is going to use a carpet cleaner made from your blood’ (specifically for the puppy/poo situation).
Whatever the subliminal message – your downbeat buddy is bound to feel a little more buoyant by it.
Books are a totally personal gift – no-one can tell you what book to give, and you have to utterly trust your instincts. All the more reason why they’re such a good cheer-up gift: books come entirely from you. You can’t cop out when sharing literature, in the same way you can cop-out in buying a box of chocolates or yet another soap bar from LUSH.
Yet ignoring that truth for a moment, I’ll share with you my go-to giveaway books anyway, in case you need inspiration –
For your writer friend in a slump:
Sloane Crosley, ‘I Was Told There’d Be Cake’. Nothing cheers me up more than feminist, comedic witticisms from my writing peers. I’d share this with other writers who are currently in a massive ‘fuck writing’ headspace, and want to burn all dictionaries and thesauruses in a huge bonfire. They wouldn’t want to burn this one.
For your just-dumped friend:
This is a tricky one, because every person is different and responds to situations such as break-ups differently. It’s a difficult road to manoeuvre your book-giving horse-and-cart down.
Initially, I would consider picking something homely and wholesome, such as ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R. Tolkein, or ‘Beauty’ by Robin McKinley. Both have high fantasy elements and are several degrees of awesome – the second is a rethought-out version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and fairytales are a great foot to fall back on in a book-giving dilemma.
On the same vein as rethought-out fairytales, I would recommend heaps of Angela Carter – ‘Wise Children’, ‘The Bloody Chamber’ and ‘The Magic Toyshop’ are all sufficiently creepy texts that will likely bring your miserable mate out of her sad zone and straight into her ‘what the fuck’ one (you’re welcome).
I’d also recommend ‘How To Be A Girl’ by Caitlin Moran, because in it she goes on a lot about kissing many boys when she was younger, which is an excellent thing to aspire to for the newly-dumped. Amy Poehler’s ‘Yes, Please’ is similarly inspiring and full of the ‘I don’t need no man’ morale that your freshly single friend may be in need of hearing from someone who is not her mother.
For your low self-esteem friend:
You need something touching, poignant and dusted with sugar. For these reasons, I’d give ‘Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close’ by Jonathan Safran-Foer, for his beautiful turn of phrase. I’d also recommend ‘Exchange’ by Paul Magyrs, because it shot up to the top of my ‘favourite books’ list when I was a teenager, for reasons I can’t quite remember but I do remember consuming the whole thing in about a day and a half. So that can only be good.
Additionally, ‘The Perks of Being A Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky is a fabulous choice, as it’s written from the perspective of a guy with shockingly shit self-esteem, and a relatable narrator can work wonders for those who are feeling blue in the head.
For a friend having an all-rounder bad time:
When I was working abroad last year, I read ‘Of Bees and Mist’ by Erick Setiawan during my frees at school. It’s gorgeous, weird and set in a surreal Victorian-like setting: all elements that are massive winners with me. As a result, I loved it – and would gift it to a down-in-the-dumps doppelgänger of mine.
‘Framed’, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, is one of the more well-thumbed books on my shelf – being funny, fast-paced, very unique and about juvenile art-thieves, something I kind of always wished I had the guts to be at a point in my childhood.
‘Stargirl’, by Jerry Spinelli is uplifting as it is bizarre, a great work of teen fiction that I am not ashamed to continue to love. Also, the author has an amazing name. Your friend will at least be able to appreciate that – and if they’re not very bookish, it may remind them to re-invest some time into ‘Recess’.
I might also offer ‘Station Eleven’, by Emily St. John Mandel, because no matter how crap your life is at the moment, at least you can say we don’t live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
As a general gift, for those emotionally unstable and those who are not:
‘The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time’, by Mark Haddon, is one of my all-time favourite books ever, ever, ever, and it’s intensely readable, even for those friends of yours who aren’t big readers. It’s even a play now, so for those of you who read and adore it and decide to make your own Curious Incident Fan Club (which I would not be opposed to joining), you have something to put on your club party schedule.
‘The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets’ by Eva Rice is a fat novel I also own and it has pink edges, which makes it an aesthetic favourite among coveter’s of my bookshelf. It’s also got a good plot, which is a plus, all things considered.
‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn is one of the most fucked up pieces of literature on my shelf, and I beg everyone I know to read it so that we can talk about it. ‘In The Miso Soup’ by Ryuichi Murakami, I recommend for similar reasons. And everything that Lemony Snicket has ever written, for his singular, sardonic wit.
I would definitely NOT recommend:
Don’t get me wrong – I love Scottish literature. I took a whole module in it in my last year of university.
But Scottish literature is also damn depressing.
DO NOT give your downbeat friend anything by Irvine Welsh or James Kelman. You’ll have them crying down the phone to you again in no time – because their dog shat on the carpet and also because their clothes are now covered in tears and snot and shredded fingernails, because of YOU.
All in all – books are great gifts.
Don’t believe me? Perhaps you’ll believe Neil Gaiman:
‘Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside them, and it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world’
Wise motherfucking advice.
Or Julie Andrews:
‘Books make great gifts because they’re everybody’s favorite things’
The marketing she-devil. Though who hasn’t seen The Sound of Music?
Buy a book. Or write a little book about how much you love them. Whatever you decide to do: consider a novel as your next donation for your darling. They’ll at least pretend to appreciate it, if they’re not rude – and if they don’t, then they’re a fraud who’s not to be trusted and you should keep better company.