Writing in yesterday's Independent, Tracey Emin confided the fact that Christmas and birthday presents are a great trial to her. In a word - or three - she cannot cope. "I get given thousands and millions of things that I don't want.... one year I just cried because of the avalanche of gifts... Sometimes at Christmas I don't open any presents at all. I leave them wrapped up until February or March." Then she had her "big, stupid idea": she asked people to either give money to The Terrence Higgins Trust or to give her a book. Consequently, she now has two hundred books she has not chosen.
That could have a big upside, I thought: amongst those two hundred books there could be numerous little gems that would have passed her by in the normal way. Of course, what I was really thinking was: if I tried that, I could end up with several little gems that otherwise I would have missed. But then I read on, to discover that among the two hundred were six copies of "How to Stop Smoking" by Allen Carr. Downside.
Among my friends and relatives there are those who prefer to buy presents that are entirely their idea of what I would like. Others ask for "lists". For them I write down suggestions. Some want these in case they "get stuck". The list will usually be heaviest in the book department, for books come most easily to mind. I began to wonder what would be the result if I simply said, as Tracey Emin apparently had, "Oh, just give me books", without providing any clues as to which books or even which genres. I think I know: some would ignore the suggestion completely, others would give me book tokens - good, but not a present to catch the ones that would get away from me. Mostly my friends and relatives do not like giving book tokens. Too impersonal. Not imaginative enough. Very well received by yours truly, though.
But then, just think what might happen if they took the suggestion at face value: a present that came entirely from the giver's intuitive grasp of what I need or would enjoy, might say too much about how the giver sees me. What a blow to the old self-esteem would be six copies of "How to Draw Landscapes", for instance! Okay, it's true that I might end up being able to draw landscapes, but who the heck cares about drawing these days - or have I missed it? is it perhaps back "in"? Has it made it back into the art schools, soon to hit the streets? (I have heard whispers, but you can't rely on anyone these days.) No, I will muddle along in my own misconceptions about my ability.
So I do not think I will change my practice, or ask my friends to change theirs, but if anyone does know of a method to net a few of those little gems that so easily slip through the fingers of reviewers - and thereby elude the likes of you and I - a comment, a clue, a pointer would do.
And what did Tracey Emin give me? Why, the idea for this post, of course.
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