Thursday, December 02, 2010

Capote, Colette, and the Art of Gift Giving

On Tuesday, December 7th, at 7pm, our Used Books Buyer Brad Craft will be reading Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” at the U-District Store. This will be Brad’s fifth year favoring us with his rendition of Capote’s bittersweet holiday story. If you’ve never attended one of his live readings before, then I whole-heartedly recommend you swing by for this seasonal treat. I will be in attendance, and hope to see many of you there as well.

But ever since I began working at University Book Store, it is another of Capote’s pieces that comes to my mind, particularly during the Holiday season when shoppers flood the store in search of gift recommendations. It is his short essay “The White Rose,” wherein Capote recounts his visit with the legendary French author Colette, shortly after the publication of his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms. Upon entering Colette’s bedroom, “as my hostess was an elderly partial invalid who rarely left her bed,” the usually brash Capote found himself timorous, tongue-tied, and unable to look directly at Colette. Instead, he found his attention drawn to her collection of antique, crystal paperweights. “There was perhaps a hundred of them covering two tables situated on either side of the bed….” Noticing his interest, she is able to draw him into conversation by explaining her fascination with these “snowflakes,” as she calls them.

She ultimately gives him one, the eponymous white rose, as a present: “By so doing she arranged for a financially ruinous destiny, for from that moment I became a ‘collector’….” Capote then goes on to relate his own passion for these objets d’arts, before ending the essay with the revelation that he originally tried to refuse Colette’s gift. “…[W]hen I protested that I couldn’t accept as a present something she so clearly adored, [she replied] ‘My dear, really there is no point in giving a gift unless one also treasures it oneself.’

Since first reading those words, I have tried to employ this advice whenever possible, and found it to be most rewarding. So, if this Holiday season you wish to go beyond the various lists submitted to you by loved ones, then, once more, I whole-heartedly recommend following Madame Colette’s example. 

--Dan, Events

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Dan! I love that essay too. Did you know the paperweight was on Capote's nightstand when he died?


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