I wrote this as a blog post for Penguin blog about ten years ago (when I guest-blogged for them), and it has disappeared from Google. So I thought I would serve up another, slightly different version to keep it circulating. Here goes:
Most of you should throw books out — your used copies that is — instead of gifting them. If you donate the otherwise-thrashed book somewhere, someone might read it. OK, maybe that person will read one more book in life but more likely that book will substitute for that person reading some other book instead. Or substitute for watching a wonderful movie.
So you have to ask yourself — this book — is it better on average than what an attracted reader might otherwise spend time with? Even within any particular point of view most books simply aren’t that good, and furthermore many books end up being wrong. These books are traps for the unwary, and furthermore gifting the book puts some sentimental value on it, thereby increasing the chance that it is read. Gift very selectively! And ponder the margin.
You should be most likely to give book gifts to people whose reading taste you don’t respect very much. That said, sometimes a very bad book can be useful because it might appeal to “bad” readers and lure them away from even worse books. Please make all the appropriate calculations.
Alternatively, if a rational friend of yours gives you a book, perhaps you should feel a little insulted.
How good is the very best next book that you haven’t read but maybe are on the verge of picking up? So many choices in life hinge on that neglected variable.
Toss it I say!