To buy good book presents you have to hit upon a thing that the recipient will not yet own, probably will not even know about, possibly which they would never think to buy for themselves, but nevertheless which will be exactly right for them. Years ago, long before we were married, and maybe when we weren’t even going out, Robert brought me a children’s book back from a trip to the US: an almost wordless picture book called Good Dog Carl about a dog who is left to mind a baby but instead allows the baby to eat everything in the fridge, then baths it in the fish tank, before popping it back in bed just before the mother comes home. I don’t know why he bought this book, he’s never bought me another children’s book, but it was a perfect present for me, and I would never have bought it for myself. But the best book present I ever received wasn’t actually a book at all. For my eighteenth birthday, my brother Jon gave me a £50 book token. That seems pretty generous now, but this was 1983, when just a tenner would buy you five paperbacks, rather than one and a bit. I spent it all in one go, an orgy of book-buying, like a lottery winner’s shopping binge. It’s probably the most fun I have ever had buying books. Cookery books usually work for me too. I think most of my most used ones have been bought for me by other people. I love to read, I love to cook, and yet I can't think of an occasion when I've ever actually bought myself a cookery book. It's not a section of a bookshop I browse much, unless I'm looking for a present for someone.
Oh, and by the way, if you should be thinking about giving me a present, and now you’ve read this, you wonder if maybe I’m much to exacting about what I want, so it’s much too hard to give me books as presents, let me reassure you. You know the presents I like best of all, the ones I save for the end, are the flat rectangular ones.