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Birthday Book Bonanza Ritual: The Pleasures of Non-Surprise

I had a birthday last month, which triggered a unique annual tribal ritual I thought I’d share.

A group of friends – my “movie posse” with whom I see at least half of the movies each year – marks each person’s birthday with an elaborate and “progressive” ceremony – not politically progressive, though we all are, but a sequence that starts with a movie of the honoree’s selection, followed by dinner at a restaurant, and finishing up with gift giving at somebody’s house, along with dessert and coffee.


Aside from its duration, what is probably the most unique about this event is the style (and scale) of the gift-giving. Prior to one’s pending event, the birthday person provides a list of items desired, usually books, CDs and DVDs. The list should be really long, so that buyers have a choice, and I guess, so that there is some element of surprise as to which wishes will come true.

Only this past year did we started using Amazon’s Wish-List feature. Originally – and I gather the process started more than 20 years ago – one’s list was sent via email. Each buyer needed to alert the others when you made a purchase. This takes a lot of work.

And money, since each person generally bestows at least three and often more than five items for the honoree, depending upon prices. No matter what, this is a bonanza, especially when you come from a family with bad taste.

Since each item is individually wrapped, the actual unveiling quite becomes ceremonial. Each book, CD or movie is passed around the group for further examination, as are birthday cards.

Some people get wiggy and buy a “wild card” gift that is not on the list – known to the rest of the world as a surprise. Occasionally I rebel and pack all the gifts I’m giving into a single box, rather than wrapping them individually. In April there were duplicate purchases, due to the mysteries of Amazon’s Wish-List (FYI: you must order from within the wish list or it won’t get removed for other shoppers!)

Initially, I resisted this ritual. Why not just buy an Amazon gift card and let the birthday person buy what they want, I asked? What about the pleasure of buying a gift that carries special, private meaning? Haven’t we lost the frisson of guessing what somebody you know might want? Yada yada yada.

After a couple of cycles, I gave in, not because the others pressured me, but because I came to understand the pleasures of this approach. AND, the pleasures of never running out of books to read on my nightstand, since I never ask for movies, except this year when I asked for the Swedish TV series based on the Wallender novels. (I never got the idea of a video library, but then, with ebooks, why do I still have a paper library?).

In case you were wondering, here is my 2012 birthday haul from three friends (well, one book was from a newcomer to the group who bought a single book, like a normal person would).

 If you're really a book geek, I review all the books I consume (read or hear) on my Goodreads account.



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Reader Comments (3)

I wish I could get in on this! Unfortunately, I live on the east coast (and only know one member of your group). This is certainly a painless way to mark the passing years.

Wed, July 11, 2012 at 2:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandra Parshall

Sandra, you could start an east coast edition with your friends!

Wed, July 11, 2012 at 3:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterNick DeMartino

Thank you a lot for sharing this with all people you actually know what you are talking approximately!

Sun, December 22, 2013 at 11:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin Parker

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