It is better to give than to receive!
A well known phrase and one that chimes with me. To be able to make someone happy, or to cheer someone up is a wonderful thing to experience. And especially so when giving someone a gift which is unexpected and outside the norm of Christmas, birthday…
An unexpected gift has even more impact as happened to me just recently when a friend followed up our meeting with a gift that he left on my doorstep.
How kind and thoughtful of him.
Our meeting had been in a book shop and after I had left and still thinking of me, he was seized by a moment and sought out a very famous novel that he thought I might enjoy.
I should provide some context now…
This meeting of ours had taken place in the café of our local Waterstones book shop. We had chosen it deliberately so we could peruse the hard backs and book styles that I wanted to emulate for my forthcoming book, Takes on Life, because this friend is a professional designer and in charge of all design elements of Dominic Holland Inc.
This title sounds much more grand than it really is.
After our meeting then, to receive from him this novel that has sold millions of copies might easily be misconstrued. If the recipient is say, a tad insecure about his writing and the likelihood of his latest book ever hitting the shelves of the shop we had just met in.
What might a gift of a famous novel actually be suggesting? What might my ‘friend’ be trying to say?
“Here, Dom, read this man. This is how it’s done. Stop wasting my time with this Takes on Life, BS”
But no matter.
I am touched by his kind gesture and I thank him (by text) and of course I don’t mention my concerns or his possible ulterior motive. Much better, I feel, to concentrate on the positive things in play here. After all, I need a novel to read and this being a classic, a chance for me to learn and grow as a writer. Penned by a literary heavyweight and what better reason to replace the thin and derivative offering from Netflix by getting lost in a great story.
But this was three weeks ago. I am still barely three chapters in and this is a problem for me. The reviews on the jacket are not helping either. They promise me a ‘gem’, ‘a piece of treasure’, a ‘privilege to read’ and ‘a joy to behold’ but so far I have found it eminently put-downable.
It is not a straightforward read and is deliberately a gradual build.Its sentences are long and meandering and I frequently need to re-read sections to maintain a handle. Despite my determination, as yet I remain un-gripped and this makes me fret. Although, this has happened to me many times before with the great novels. I once gave One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez a good go, until I realised that even if I was alone and for 100 years, I would still not be able to finish the sodding book. Life is too short or the Marquez classic is too long.
I am fretting because this current novel makes me feel inadequate. Not clever enough for, which is how I felt growing up and the subject of my Ted talk, which is available on-line. This insecurity is further exposed because the author has written a foreword in which he explains that his son read his manuscript before it was published and that he gave his dad the thumbs up.
Yeah, and? So what? You might ask. It’s nice that a son approves of his dad’s work.
Sure, until I explain that his son was 13 years old at the time. THIRTEEN! So, you can only imagine how stupid this makes me feel. When I was 13 there was more likelihood of me shaving than reading this novel.
But my ‘stupidity’ is not my only source of anxiety which comes courtesy of my good friend again because he will be waiting for my verdict on his kind gift. And a proper thank you because the book has moved me in the same way that it presumably moved him. We speak frequently about Takes on Life and every time this gnaws at me and I wonder if I should say something.
And then further turmoil each night when I finally hit the hay – and next to me is a pristine novel with its spine not-yet-broken. It must be wondering what is taking me so long.
Men don’t read much these days. I think that’s fair. Less than women do anyway which is fully proven. There are people with data confirming as much. But all of us are reading less novels in this digital age when apps, sites and podcasts compete for our attention.
Which is why I am hopeful for my new book, Takes on Life. 31 short essays, similar to my “sage and witty” blog which you are currently reading. It is a book that is definitely not intimidating. An easy-read; written to make readers feel good about themselves. And never inadequate.
A perfect gift then, I suggest (nervously) and with lockdown and Christmas upon us…
Which brings me neatly back to the last gift that I received. As you know now, a gift that has caused me much more strain than joy. I have not mentioned its title and for numerous reasons. Because unlike Garcia-Marquez, its author remains with us (I checked). I am polite and I don’t wish to be rude about someone so venerated. I suspect that he doesn’t check his daily online book sales like some lesser selling authors do (me) but even so I don’t wish to diminish his sales either. And finally because it might well be a brilliant novel and if so, then I really am a dumbo, after all.
I did, however, broach my other source of anxiety. Speaking with the Head of Design (HOD) of DH Inc recently, I dared mention his gift.
“Oh yeah, what do you think of it.” He asked. “Is it any good?”
What? What do you mean? You’ve read it, right?
‘Me, God know. I saw the film.”
Takes on Life will be published on 23rd November as a hardback and paperback.
Only Hardbacks available on this site which can be signed and dedicated as gifts and dispatched anywhere on planet earth.