Nine Books that Make Ideal Gifts for People You Secretly Hate
We at Bookwitty have been working hard to come up with ideas for the best, most thoughtful and unique Christmas gift ideas for book lovers, to bring the peace and joy of the season to everyone on your list. But we know that sometimes, peace and joy are not exactly what you feel like spreading. There’s the list of people you want to delight, and then there’s that other list… with all those other people on it. Those people who, whether they know it or not, are just asking for mean gifts. So, to help you up your passive aggressive gift-giving game, we refer you to this timeless article from the great Aloysius Slim. Godspeed. -Eds.
We all have those so-called friends who we’ll certainly have to buy a present for, but who we don’t really know well enough to buy something personal. While books are an excellent gift under any circumstances, they’re offer a particularly robust choice when you’re shopping for someone you really don’t know well enough to make a more informed gift decision for.
Moreover, if you ever find yourself in the position of having to buy someone you secretly hate a gift at Christmas, a book is exactly the kind of present that could look entirely reasonable, only to later turn out to be a horrendous insult. Obviously, there are some situations in which you want the insult to be veiled, only to unfold when the recipient sits down to actually read the book. In other scenarios, you might want to see the look of stark disbelief on their face as they open their gift.
We’ve ranked the following books according to the open hostility with which they’ll be received, as well as providing a useful analogue for each. This is your hostile holiday gift guide.
Hostility Level: 9 - Weak Handshake
Moby Dick is the perfect present for someone who you hate, but have to act friendly towards whenever you’re together. This is a perfect secretly-loathed coworker present. When they unwrap the present, they’ll be pleased to find Melville’s work of classic whale-hunting adventure. They might even think you’re trying to make friends with them.
What they don’t know is that almost nobody has actually read Moby Dick. You know that one guy you know, the guy who’s definitely read Moby Dick? Even he hasn’t really read Moby Dick. It’s a great book, but for some reason it’s almost impossible to get through. As a result, you can get involved in some cracking conversation while you wait for meetings to start:
You: So, then have you managed to get through Moby Dick yet?
Them: No, man. I'm trying, but it’s just so long!
You: Haha, you’ve been reading it forever. I guess you could say that Moby Dick is really becoming your white whale! Sorry, just a little Moby Dick humour there. Don't worry, you'll get it later.
Obviously, to get the most mileage out of this gift, you’re going to need to read Moby Dick yourself… but that’s a small price to pay for making someone else read it.
Hostility Level: 8 - Lukewarm Conversation
Neil Jordan’s Mistaken is something really special. On receiving it, the most likely reaction you’ll get from someone is that they’ll recognise “Neil Jordan” as the name behind movies like Interview with the Vampire, The Company of Wolves, and The Crying Game. He’s won Oscars, so the natural assumption is that the book will be at the very least worth reading.
It even has a plot you can summarise in a way that makes it sound interesting:
“It’s about a kid who grows up on the wrong side of the tracks," you'll say, "who finds out that he’s got a sort of spiritual double in a better area. The book charts their chance encounters over the course of their lives. It’s really fascinating!”
Now, it’s not for us to say that Mistaken isn’t worth reading. Indeed, it’s received some very strong reviews altogether, but the fact remains that its plot is clumsy and unfocused, while its action takes place over a series of locales that are very difficult to track if you haven’t spent a fair bit of time wandering around Dublin. The combination is one that makes Mistaken uniquely dull to read, and with a plot that doesn’t pay off nearly enough to demand it.
This is the book that killed a thousand book clubs. If a person manages to read it, they will hate you more for having done so.
Hostility Level: 7 - Cold Stare
Do you yearn to ruin someone’s life, but can’t afford to have anyone else understand what you're doing?
Consider The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan. It is one of the great tragedies of modern fantasy that Robert Jordan passed away before he could finish The Wheel of Time. While the series is a real high point for fantasy fans, it’s also an almost endless series of books that slowly picks up in scale as it goes. Now, I know what you’re thinking, all of this sounds like good news, but the real punch doesn’t get delivered until a little later.
When reading The Eye of the World, there are only two real possibilities:
- The reader detests the book and you for making them read it. Of course, this is the desired response, but there is also the option that it will hit them a lot harder...
- The reader falls in love with Jordan’s style and The Wheel of Time, relentlessly devouring the series over the course of the coming months and years. They will shamble onward, a shadow of their former selves, only to find that the last books are written by Brandon Sanderson, forcing them to adapt to a new style. When they finish the series, they’ll look to more Sanderson work, only to find a yearning abyss of books before them. There is no end in sight.
Honorable Mention: Malazan: Gardens of the Moon
Hostility Level: 6 - Trading Insults
There’s not much to be said about The New York Times Book of the Dead; it’s a carefully collated list of 320 of the most interesting obituaries ever to appear in The New York Times. It’s a fascinating read, and one that will immediately pull your gift recipient into a world populated with figures who can be sorted into categories like, “The Notorious,” “Titans of Business,” and “Scientists and Healers.”
At the same time, there’s something remarkably morbid about giving someone a book of other people’s deaths to read, especially when the subjects tend to be so fascinating. The subtle pleasure of knowing that you’re giving someone an endless list of people who have achieved so much is all the reward you’ll need.
Hostility Level: 5 - Inviting Fisticuffs
There are some books that invite an immediate negative response, but which could be well intentioned.
If you know anyone who seems like they have trouble focussing, The Attention Revolution is an excellent way of pointing that out in a manner that looks as though you’re trying to help, but in reality is an entirely unsubtle jab at that person’s inability to keep their mind on the task in hand. This is another option that’s suitable for tactical deployment in the workplace.
What’s best about The Attention Revolution is that it’s actually a pretty sizeable book. At 224 pages, it’s a big demand for anyone who actually has any issues sitting down and concentrating on reading a book for a while. If you’re at all like us and have some issues keeping focussed, the idea of reading a book that long without at least a romance subplot and some action sequences is a little off-putting.
Hostility Level: 4 - Rattling Sabres
Is your quiet social nemesis a young woman starting a family? Do you long for a way to openly insult the poor dear by having them open a gift that is so roundly offensive that there’s almost no positive interpretation? Look no further, Having It All NOW: An Inspirational Journey to Becoming a Superwoman is the book for you.
At first glance, this might not even look all that offensive, but the real message lands just a split second afterward. Obviously, it’s very sweet that someone wants you to have it all, and go on an inspirational journey to becoming a superwoman. That’s a lovely sentiment… but it does also imply that you don’t currently have it all, and you’re failing to do so in a way conspicuous enough that the gift-giver felt you needed the guidance of this book.
The last time someone received a gift like this, it was filled with Greek soldiers.
Hostility Level: 3 - Savage Brawl
We’re well out of the “veiled insults” now and into “books that might precipitate a quiet stabbing on the way home.” Totally Fun Things to Do with Your Cat, is an excellent slap in the face of a present. You can even maintain some semblance of innocence to your friends as you argue endlessly, “But I thought she really liked her cats!?”
The real secret here is that you can buy Totally Fun Things to Do with Your Cat for anyone. Obviously a cat owner will be quietly offended by the implication that they have nothing better to do with their time, but consider buying the same book for someone who doesn’t own a cat. You may even find yourself with the opportunity to say, “Oh, I guess you just sort of feel like the kind of person who would own cats, y’know?”
Of course, if you know someone who actually loves cats so much that they’d like to receive a book called Totally Fun Things to Do with Your Cat, you’d probably have been better off just buying them another cat.
Hostility Level: 2 - Black Hawk Down
Like Christmas, Black Hawk Down is a visceral, vertiginous experience, defined by concussive forces and stolen seconds away from the conflict zone. It also perfectly captures the feeling of being surrounded by enemies on all sides who will do anything to see you brought low. If you hate someone this much, you might as well make it open animosity, with L Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics.
While some of Hubbard’s science fiction writing enjoys a cult following decades after his death, Dianetics enjoys a cult following in that it served as the cornerstone of creepy not-quite-religion Scientology. As a result, the book has been pretty roundly reviled.
Choice quotes from Dianetics include:
You will find many reasons why you "cannot get well" and you will know at length, when you find the dictating lines in the engrams, how amusing those reasons are, especially to you.
Almost all the basic philosophy and certainly all the derivations of the master subject of Dianetics were excluded here, partly because this volume had to stay under half a million words and partly because they belong in a separate text where they can receive full justice.
If you do give this to someone as a gift, you may be well advised not to travel alone in the near future, to wear a kevlar vest, and perhaps a helmet.
Hostility Level: 1 - Thermonuclear War
Short of having someone open a Christmas present to find an actual declaration of war, we’d recommend picking them up a copy of How to be Interesting: An Instruction Manual. Obviously, we all have that one friend who, try as they might, is just a bit boring. This is not a gift for that friend (though you might as well give it a go, at this point we’d try anything).
Rather, this is a book for someone who probably already is a bit interesting, but who sets your teeth on edge. What is, perhaps, most insulting about How to be Interesting is that it’s actually a pretty solid book in its own right… which is ideal, because it can only possibly nettle your intended target more.
Be warned that this isn’t just a minor act of war. This is a no-turning-back move that will not only betray your animosity, but also poison any hope of recovery. If there is a personal relationship version of leaving someone’s homeland a blighted place where food cannot grow and the very air is poisonous, then giving a person a copy of this book is probably it.