People in my family have this dilemma. Given how many books I have and read, it is hard for them to know what to buy me short of asking.
That may be one way of finding out. If you don’t want to give yourself away the trick is being indirect, and probably far enough away from the time you are giving the gift that they might not remember. Asking them about what they’ve been reading or what kinds of things they like to read might give you some clues of genres to look in. Family members of the person may be of help if they know the person’s habits and don’t mind that they are a bibliophile!
If you have access, you can always try snooping around their homes and seeing what books they have. The challenge here, of course, is remembering what they have, and more importantly, recognizing what they don’t have, and all of this without being obvious. If you are a fellow bibliophile, they will totally get your book-snooping. Chances are they do the same at your house!
Once you have an idea of genre or genres in which you are looking, get some help. A good bookseller is a great resource at this point. In many cases, what you probably want are new titles that your friend may not yet have acquired, particularly if they like to wait to pick them up in second hand shops, a habit of many of us bibliophiles. They can point you to recent releases, particularly ones that have gotten a lot of notice or good reviews. This probably won’t be as cheap as Amazon, but this kind of service is worth extra, particularly if it is offered by an indie bookseller!
There are some indie booksellers that focus on particular genres. Friends who want to buy me theological books, for example, might not get much help at the local B & N. But if you contacted Hearts & Minds Books (probably via the web) I bet you can find something (and the bookseller sort of knows me!). There are stores around for everything from mysteries to feminist literature. You may have to check online–they may not be in your hometown.
There is some help online as well. If you have purchased on Amazon, you know you can create a wish list. Did you know you can also look up the wish lists of your friends? Of course, this presumes that they have created a wish list and it is current and that their name is not really common, like “John Smith”. To do this, just go to your wish list and you will see a box in the upper right hand corner that says, “Find Someone’s Wish List.”
You might also consider social media. If the person is a Facebook friend, their profile may show what books they have read. If they are on Goodreads (and you are) you can see what books they’ve read by genres and their favorite genres (or shelves). Some users also have a “wishlist” shelf. You can also look at their top-rated books and click on the book which takes you to the Goodreads page for that book and look in the upper right corner at the “Readers Also Enjoyed” recommendations. While Goodreads provides recommendations for books you might like based on what you’ve read, they don’t yet do this for your friends (I’ve suggested it!).
My son wins the award for the best book gift. For my birthday, he bought me A Heritage to Share: A Bicentennial History of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio. He knew I was blogging on Youngstown because I grew up there and like all things history. He went to Acorn Bookshop here in town and found this book. Little did he know that I had been in there and had seriously considered buying it, had leafed through it, and put it on my mental “sometime” list but passed up the temptation.
How have you figured out what books to buy your bibliophile friends?