You decide!

I am fairly sure I was eight. The Retired Children’s Librarian had sent me another carefully chosen book for my birthday. But I just didn’t fancy The Count of Monte Cristo. I really really wanted The Three Musketeers. I also knew that the edition of Monte Cristo was a fairly expensive one.

So I made plans, and walked into town, one day soon after my birthday. One did things like that in those days. Another thing one did, at least in Sweden, was freely exchange books in bookshops. No need for a receipt, nor that the book had been bought from that shop. A book is a book, and can be resold if it is unread and undamaged.

I was very lucky. My unwanted Monte Cristo covered both the cheaper Three Musketeers plus an additional smaller book. Maybe Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew or some such volume.

Then I walked home again.

Was it right, though? Should I have taken the giver’s choice of book?

(I have to add here, that I obviously got round to the dashing Count later, and loved him. I just wanted my musketeers right then. And making the exchange was my only means of getting myself a musketeer.)

I was reminded of this determined eight-year-old, when an author mentioned an event she had done at a school recently. She did it for free for personal reasons, and was duly thanked with a lovely big bunch of flowers. And all she could think of was that those flowers would have paid for a pair of jeans, or something else useful.

If a school can run to flowers, they could run to a small gift voucher at M&S instead. We can’t always make the best use of flowers, whether or not we are in need of new jeans.

So who decides? Giver, or receiver? Is there a right way?

Children like writing wish lists, and we all know that mine would have had musketeers on it. Although these days children ask for increasingly expensive things, so we’ve come some way from simple books. But I often think of my elderly friend here in the Manchester Swedish group who got fed up with her grandchildren’s lists. ‘I decide what you get, and you will be grateful!’ is what she told them.

Quite right. But then they weren’t penniless adults. Nor were their parents.

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4 responses to “You decide!

  1. Its a dilemma, but I think as a giver, you want your gift to be something that someone really loves and takes joy in. So if I have missed the mark I am more than happy that the reciever is able to exchange and get what they really want, especially if it is a book. The thought does count but I don’t want my money wasted because I got the thought wrong! But schools who give useless gifts to professionals who have donated their time, really do need to try harder next time.

  2. Very, very interesting. I’m not sure I have a good answer. I don’t think you did the wrong thing when you were eight, because you were a child. And I don’t blame the author for thinking she could have bought something with a voucher that the flowers had cost. But I also think that part of the value of giving is in the act of giving, in the sense that “it’s the thought that counts.” It’s very hard for children, who usually can’t give anyway, and whose focus is inevitably on receiving. As an adult, if I receive something I can’t use or don’t like, I’d like to give it away to someone who might like it, as long as the giver never has to know. I know a couple who keep a picture in a cupboard and have to get it out before the uncle who gave it to them comes…

  3. At eight you can do what you like (especially if you are reading Dumas) but in general I think giving a book is like giving a greetings card, in that the giver may well be choosing a particular message to impart with it. For instance, there may be a reason why I give my wife ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ rather than ‘American Psycho’ (not a real example). Gifts of literature, art or music, more than anything, are far more about the content than the monetary value. But yes, I prefer jeans to flowers.

  4. I need to know what size you are.

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