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Posted by Kate, December 26, 2011

All we want for Christmas is… books

Last year, loyal readers of this blog may remember a personal blog-post about re-reading books at Christmas.

This year, perhaps because there were more of us in one place and so more preparation to be done, there was little time for re-reading in the run-up to Christmas (though this morning I did squish in a speed-read of The Woman in Black, with a view to recommending it to one of my children).

And given the number of books we received between us – you can see them all in the picture above – we’ll be pretty occupied with first-time reading for a while. There were eight of us spending Christmas day together, ranging in age from 11 to 71, and we brought with us presents from friends and family elsewhere. We received 31 print books. In fact, several of us received hardly anything else.

We are, I know, not a typical family (as a glance at this summer’s blog post covering our holiday reading might suggest). We are, as was said of Christie in Work: A Story of Experience by Louisa May Alcott, perhaps “too fond of books”.

But we’re not alone in keeping alive the tradition of the printed book as a Christmas gift, however much we love digital reading too. As any trade publisher or bookseller will tell you, books bought for Christmas are currently fundamental to the UK book industry. According to BML’s Books and The Consumers study, 13% of all adult books and 26% of all children’s books bought in 2010 were bought as Christmas presents (though you have to hope that they get a better reception than that of this 3-year old who seemed to have modified his view by the following year. Sadly, we don’t know how he responded this year).

Undoubtedly this year, as in our house, a lot of book-lovers will have got ereaders. As @LaceyPR, a UK publishing professional, commented on Twitter, “Last year my Twitter (industry) was filled with ereader recipients. This year it’s my Facebook (ordinary folk)”.

You can spot a new Kindle fifth from the left on the bottom row in the photo above. It was a 12 year-old’s main – and requested – present, and was preloaded with a number of free titles.

In fact, it was only the committed ebook reader in the family who didn’t receive or give any print books this year… and she didn’t give ebooks either, which potentially poses a real issue for the book industry as digital reading increases. Right now, the fact that many people are receiving new hardware means that publishers and certain retailers can enjoy a sort of “double Christmas”, as described by Scott Pack.

But still… printed books are affordable (the cheapest book here cost 20 pence from a second-hand shop), personal, durable and very easy to transport and to wrap or put in a stocking. They don’t give you a hangover. They don’t make you fat (well, the cookery books sort of do, but only indirectly). They take longer to consume than chocolates. A well-chosen book – one that taps into an enthusiasm or interest of a reader, one that communicates meaning or emotion from the giver to the receiver, one that introduces a reader to a new subject or author that they go on to love – is a great present.

Under our tree, there was a lot of lavishly-illustrated non-fiction, from The Magic of Reality (two copies, but not given twice to the same person) to 40 Years of Queen, and including a lot of cookery books. There were a lot of children’s books, at least one of which was given to an adult: the pop-up edition of L’Homme Qui Plantait des Arbres. There wasn’t a lot of adult fiction – only one adult fiction title was given to an adult. 18 of the 31 books we opened were hardbacks, from the £30 RRP 40 Years of Queen to the £1.50 second-hand edition of Persuasion.

Many of the gifts of books we opened were on our family Christmas wish lists… though Justice for Hedgehogs kind of came out of the blue.

A while ago, I was asked to compile a Nosy Crow Christmas wish list as a guest blog post. I didn’t have the opportunity to consult widely, but I thought that you might like to know what some of the other crows later said was on our professional wish lists for Christmas and beyond.

Kirsty said that she, too, wanted to find a brilliant fantasy series for 8-12 year olds (it’s always cheering when we find out we would like the same thing…).

Dom said he wanted great review coverage for Just Right… and he pretty much got that, actually, as you’ll see if you look at the reviews section on the page.

Giselle is hoping for a great, innovative novelty idea to cross her path soon. I think Camilla would like one of those too.

Ed, Will and I wish for great, well-thought-through apps proposals that really use the features of touchscreen devices to tell stories to children in a new way.

Kate B always wants picture book texts that are original, emotionally compelling (which means they could be funny or sad or anywhere in between) and full of child-appeal.

And, of course, we’d all like bags of support for our books and apps from reviewers, librarians and from retailers whether they’re independent bookshops, chainstores, supermarkets or online retailers like Apple’s iTunes store and Amazon.

I know I missed Christmas Day for this blog, but I hope everyone else is enjoying Boxing Day as much as I am.

What books – print or ebook – did you get? What books did you want, but didn;t get? What books did you give? What was the best (or the worst!) reaction to your choice?