In this age of waste not, want not, it’s a good idea to head to a book shop. A real life book as a gift is a no brainer: shareable, recyclable, and most importantly, the giver is able to borrow from the receiver. You can’t do that with socks.

But where to begin with the trickier members of the whanau? Your favourite bookseller has the smarts to deal with this. You only have to ask for some ideas, and your Christmas Day could pan out like this…

Uncle Reg will only read political biographies. He’s read everything and has many, many opinions. He’s already read Blue Blood, Andrea Vance’s (fairly) non-judgemental and well researched narrative of the National Party’s leadership implosion. You give him Chris Finlayson’s Yes, Minister. Reg is quietly pleased and regales all and sundry with tales of bipartisan bad behaviour and what the hell happened after John Key left until everyone offers to help in the kitchen.

Nanny Ngaire just wants a good yarn. She’s read the Seven Sisters series and is deeply disappointed in Lucinda Riley for dying. She unwraps Harbouring by the inimitable Jenny Pattrick. Set in 1850s New Zealand it charts the lives of the poorer members of society: Welsh immigrants Huw and Martha, and smart but enslaved Hineroa. The story evokes a sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal life, told through the eyes of the underdogs. Ngaire loves an underdog; she appreciates the author’s wit, and her ability to conjure a character in just a few words. You are now Nanny Ngaire’s favourite. 

Maia has been veering wildly over the past few weeks between the exhilarating joy of gazing at her newborn and sobbing whilst rocking the screaming ball of fury to whom she has given life. You put the baby in the arms of a now snoozing Reg and give Maia a glass of wine and a copy of Emily Writes’ Needs Adult Supervision. Maia spends the pre-lunch period laughing, gasping in horrified hilarity at Emily’s birth story involving a lift and a poo, and coming to the realisation that she actually is coping, and that it’s normal for parenting to be messy, blissful, chaotic and really, really hard. 

Carson is a spooky little kid. At ten years old, he’d rather read about corpses than cars, funerals in favour of fishing and investigation over action. Although male, Carson is happy to read books with female protagonists because he’s smart enough to realise that about half the population are female, and they can be quite interesting. You give him The Deadly Daylight by Ash Harrier. Alice lives in a funeral home, gets resonant messages from the possessions of the dead, and knows that George Devenish didn’t die just because of his sunlight allergy. With the aid of George’s niece, Violet, Alice learns not just about the circumstances surrounding George’s death, but about how to be a friend whilst embracing your glorious differences (and applying eye shadow to corpses). 

Poppa thinks the baby doesn’t need a present, but he’s pleasantly surprised that when he gets his turn for a cuddle after Reg wakes baby with his snoring, the little one focuses her new eyes on Gavin Bishop’s Friend, in which a child and a dog negotiate how they, and their koro, are feeling. Baby absorbs the rumble of Poppa’s voice, a voice she recognises, and starts to latch on to speech patterns and sounds. Ka pai, Poppa.

You want to be the best Auntie, but what on earth are teenager’s reading these days? Being quite well read, you remember that Haruki Murakami said, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” Having trusted your bookseller to find you a gem, fourteen year old Anahera unwraps her gift to reveal Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas and discovers a story of Lady Death, unexpected romance, mystery and friendship. Anahera is thrilled and will soon blaze a reading trail among her peers, just as soon as she’s uploaded a video of her updated bookshelf to TikTok. Mum and Dad, the sandwich generation in the kitchen, have finished cooking, cleaning up and diverting various family members from bickering. They deserve a bloody good read. Put the kettle on and hand them their presents. There’s a new Kate Atkinson, Shrines of Gaiety, and as she opens it Mum shrieks with excitement – she is transported to Jazz Age London, ditching her pinny for sequins. She waves it at Dad who bats her away as he discovers he is the recipient of a brand spanking new Cormac McCarthy, The Passenger, about a salvage diver, terrified of the deep and pursued for a crime he doesn’t understand. Shivers. The post lunch room is hushed, only the quiet rustle of a turned page nudging the quiet. New worlds have been entered and you revel in the knowledge you have created this rare Christmas calm. Feeling full of love for your whanau, you reach into your bag for the gift you gave yourself. With a contented sigh, you crack the spine and settle in. This could be your Christmas Day. Just pop in to the bookshop, the one where the booksellers read, eat, sometimes sleep, read some more and spend their working hours matching books with people. It’s too easy.

Mere kirihimete, and panui koa! 


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