Not an Odalisque

The Unstoppable Advance of Socks

with 4 comments

I was browsing in a bookshop in Belfast, once, when I noticed a blonde woman in an intimidating suit walking around the store with a shop assistant in tow. She went from display to display quizzing him about how the set up, and it became clear that she had come from head office to standardise the shop’s marketing. They worked their way around the tables near me:

“What’s this one?” she snapped.


“And this one?”

“New releases”

“And this?”

The man slouched, put his hands in his pockets and then mumbled, “Books I think my ex-girlfriend should’ve read.” The woman looked horrified.

I imagine that the assistant and I would share an approach to Christmas shopping. It isn’t so much a case of what you think people might like, as what they ought to have in their lives: The text that will influence their thinking, the novel set in a world you’re sure they would love to inhabit. If that’s difficult to determine, and you’re cohabiting, a book which will influence your own thinking is a viable alternative. Do consider the possibility of break-ups if it is a romantic relationship, though. There’s a lovely dictionary out there, and a hardback book of fairy tales, both of which I suspect are unused and neither of which I felt I could take when I left.*

Choosing becomes difficult with people whose tastes you don’t know, but in this circumstance something with wide appeal, or, more properly, something you think everyone should read, is a good choice. And the receipt. If they really wanted a book on building model aeroplanes the shop will probably give them one. The impossible challenge, I have discovered, is buying a gift for someone who doesn’t read. Not someone who can’t read, as in the case of the blind grandmother for whom I’ve purchased many audio books, but someone who has the ability to read and chooses not to. This is the case with my father’s girlfriend. I just don’t know what to do.

My father’s girlfriend is a lovely woman. She’s successful, tall (I approve strongly of tall women) and glamorous. She also used to read her science textbooks during English class. From this I can infer that she likes science text books, but I don’t think she needs any more of those. She doesn’t need much of anything, and I have yet to fathom what she wants.

Before the first Christmas I spent at her house, I rang my father and asked if he had any suggestions for what I could get her. A book, perhaps? No, he said, he had the perfect answer. He was buying her an amplifier and speakers. Why didn’t I purchase the wires to connect them? “No,” I tutted at his masculine ineptitude, “you can’t get someone wires for Christmas!” He had no further suggestions, so I chose and wrapped a bottle of perfume. On Christmas day I received a hi-fi from my father, and some prettily packaged wires from his girlfriend.

It’s been no better since. I’ve given her garishly coloured pashminas and she’s bestowed costume jewellery upon me. Last year I received a box of Wallace and Gromit themed bread mix (I put it in the cupboard with the twenty or so bread flours I already possessed) and Harvey Nichols fruit tea bags. I took her an architecturally unstable gingerbread house which was binned after a few days of dereliction, due to staleness.

What do you buy the woman who doesn’t read? There must be an answer. If you know it, save me, please, from giving the soulless gift of candles or bath bubbles. One of us has to change, or soon we’ll spiral down as far as socks. I can see them marching towards me, with a sense of impending doom.

*I’m not bitter, though, I think I make a net gain on books in most relationships. My last boyfriend packed a 1901 edition of ‘Psychopathia Sexualis’ in with my things. Perhaps he was trying to make a statement, but I’m rather pleased.


Written by Not an Odalisque

December 15, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

4 Responses

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  1. On a side note, socks seem to be a better gift than you’d expect when they’re handknitted


    December 15, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    • Handknitted socks are, I understand, a lovely gift. I’m a selfish knitter, though, and tend to make things for myself, on the basis that non-knitters will never be sufficiently grateful for all that time and effort. Or maybe I’m just too proud after I offered to knit an ex-boyfriend a jumper in the first flush of affection, and he said no. In any case, I think my father’s girlfriend would look upon handknitted socks with the same expression she’d give a school child bringing home a picture. They’re more thoughtful than glamorous, at least, all the ones I’ve ever made have been.

      Not an Odalisque

      December 15, 2010 at 6:49 pm

  2. Audiobook? Audible/other – is a fun way to get into a book, even if the person doesn’t like reading in general – with the right book and reader.


    December 15, 2010 at 7:30 pm

  3. I started to have a similar problem with my teenage nephew. I grew tired of buying him accessories for the gadgets my sister buys him, throw away items that will be long forgotten by the next year. So, I have started to give him things that had a profound impact on me whilst growing up.

    Last year, as he started to learn to play the guitar, I gave him a copy of an album that helped shape me as a musician. He looked at me like I was crazy when he opened it and found a 20 year old album. After explaining what it was, he realised that what I was giving him was not just a 20 year old album, but a chance for him to share in a very important moment in my life.

    This may not be something that would work for your situation, but I would rather give someone a present that I care about and they are perhaps too young or close minded to fully appreciate, than give them another soulless consumable.

    Mr Wrath

    December 16, 2010 at 12:41 pm

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