Claremont, Calif. — If you are wondering what to give your young son or daughter or grandchild or nephew or niece for his or her birthday or for whatever occasion, I have a suggestion.
Give a book.
Unlike a box of candy, a book can be sampled, even devoured, before it is given. Remember Bacon's famous words: "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."
But do not take this too literally. As Bacon goes on to explain: "That is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention."
In whatever way it its read beforehand, the reading of it will not show. Not only will the book be in pristine condition, but you will be able to savor it first.
Also you will know whether it is the proper gift, and you can exchange it for another if it is not.
Unlike an article of clothing, a book as a gift does not involve the hazard of being too large or too small. I would suggest, however, that there is a parallel with clothing. It is wise to give a book that can be grown into or grown up to rather than a book, unless it is a classic for all ages, that is for a child whose understanding is already a larger size.
Indeed, a child who is given a book that is for a somewhat older child will be flattered.
Unlike a toy, a book will not break down after a little use, or need a new battery.
Unlike a potted plant, a book need not be tended tenderly -- watered, fertilized, pruned. A book is sturdy. It may not grow, but it may cause the mind of the person who receives it to grow.
A book can be used (read) many times and still be in good condition, especially if it is a hardcover and not a paperback edition.
One more advantage of a book as a gift. It is rectangular and not round, and therefore easily wrapped.And if it has to be mailed, it takes a little less postage when the package is marked "Book. Special Fourth-Class Rate."
That is the only thing that is fourth-class about it. Otherwise, if you have chosen well, it is first-class.
Some years ago I wrote a poem called "Give a Book" for Publisher's Weekly, saying in verse much of what I have said here in prose. I summed it all up in lines that are appropriate here: So when it comes to ease of wrapping,m To size that's not too tight or gapping,m To lasting long, permitting sample,m For all these reasons more than ample,m As one who writes them for a livingm I say that books are best for giving.m