Contest #142 winner 🏆

What You Can Do With Your Book

Submitted into Contest #142 in response to: Start your story with someone being given a book recommendation.... view prompt

245 comments

American Funny Friendship

You present me with a gift bag as if legions of angels will descend, trumpeting your thoughtfulness in remembering my [insert celebratory event here]. 

I’m gracious, of course. 

You shouldn’t have!

And I mean that. You shouldn’t have. Because now you are stepping over the line. 

We are simply:

  1. co-workers 
  2. mothers with children at the same school 
  3. neighbors with dogs 
  4. old-friends-from-college, or 
  5. spouses-of-old-friends-from-college. 

Regardless, we are not on gift-bagging terms. Especially the kind you immediately re-gift to other peripheral friends: scented candles, cheap chocolates, fuzzy socks, calendars, coffee mugs.

You shouldn’t have!

Because now I need to remember if you were born in March or April. I need to invite you to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory and overpay for complicated chicken salads and Diet Cokes. We will debate for a nanosecond about ordering a slab of artery-strangling dessert. We will joke about cheesecake being high in dietary protein. Yet when the waiter returns from clearing our half-eaten salads, we will trill together in unison: Oreo Dream Extreme Cheesecake! (What’s a little heart disease amongst gift-bagging friends?)

You shouldn’t have!

I’m holding the gift bag in my hands, both of us standing with frozen smiles on our faces. 

Now what?

You are expecting me to open the gift bag—like there isn't a googolplex of more important things that I need to attend to. But who am I to hold up the unveiling of your selfless act of generosity? 

Let’s just open up the frickin' bag, shall we?

Since you coughed up $13.99 for one of Hallmark’s finest, I take my time, appraising the bedazzled foil and colorful ribbons, as if it were the work of a 19th century Post-Impressionist. As expected, animal-related puns are splattered across the front: “Thinking of Ewe!” “Feline Fine!” “Let’s gopher a drink!”

Isn’t that clever? We both agree that it is.

Between forced chuckles, I wonder when we, as a society, quit taking the extra four minutes to thoughtfully wrap presents? At what point did we, collectively, agree that it was socially acceptable to shove gifts into a bag, not even bothering to remove the clear plastic hanging tag? And as a follow up, what’s the point of gift bags for wine?

All questions for another day. It’s time for me to cull through the vibrantly-colored tissue paper—fuchsia, electric blue, chartreuse—and see what treasure there is for me at the bottom. Midway down, my fingers touch what you’ve selected. 

Good god, woman. 

What. 

Have.

You.

Done.  

By the size and heft of your gift, it’s clear that you’ve purchased me a book. On purpose.

Let's get one thing clear: I like to pick out my own books. I have a stack of them by my bed that I'm never going to read, and now I have to add yours to the pile? To compound insult to injury, you're going to ask me about this book when I see you again. 

I use all of my remaining bandwidth to pull out this publication from your gift bag, read aloud the title like a sacred scroll, and then find some authentic way to say thank you for the worst present ever. 

In the meantime, let me ask you one thing: What were you thinking? 

I mean, let’s just say you bought me a cookbook. Neither you nor I are going to master the art of French cooking in our lifetime, and I don’t think I need Giada De Laurentiis’ hot take on grilled cheese. At this point in American cuisine, we have given up. We’ve ceded dinner to DoorDash or whatever overpriced shit is shoveled into the Home Chef or Blue Apron box, prepped in an airport hangar, ensconced in enough ecologically-toxic packaging and dry ice to make me think twice about driving thru Chick-fil-A for the third time this week. Look. Neither of us are mincing garlic or zesting an orange peel. Even if I do like one of these sixteen-part recipes, I’m going to have to hunt down tarragon at Food Lion, use an eighth of a teaspoon, and then let the rest rot in the back of the pantry. Pass. 

Poetry? If you purchased a book of poetry for me, it’s probably one of your friend’s or relative’s timeless works, and you’re just abusing the Amazon algorithm to jack up their sales. And fun fact: unless you are physically intimate with someone, it is illegal in most states to gift books of poetry. That’s just the law. 

True Crime—as opposed to fake crime? Dominick Dunne and Erik Larson notwithstanding, I don’t think I need to slog through the sick underbelly of mankind. Isn’t that what HLN is for? 

As for a mystery? At my age, most things are a mystery: the sociopolitical landscape, what’s going on with my neck, my spouse, the viability of my career, my belief in God, what my children do on the internet, and my cat’s ability to throw up exactly where I step. Why complicate a complicated world even further? I don’t need any more surprises. Keep your mysteries off my nightstand.

Fantasy. OMG. If you bought me the first installment of any fantasy series, I will drive over to your house and burn it down. Of course it is part of a sprawling six-part hexalogy with a companion guide listing all of the neologisms (with maps!) Why wouldn’t I enjoy an excruciatingly detailed realm with a hundred characters and settings? Although I appreciate the intensive world-building some author has conjured up in his parent’s basement, I’ll wait until Netflix buys it, effectively ruining it as only Hollywood can do, by ensuring there is a video game tie-in and family-friendly plush toys.

Science fiction? Re-read the above.

Romance? I mean, that is just cruel. You and I are far past the bodice-ripping stages in our lives. No one with abs is sneaking through our garden gate. And I’m less worried about the Deviant Duke of CastleWaterBridge tingling my nether regions and more concerned about my 401(k) being ravaged by inflation. 

Short stories? If I want paper-thin characterization, clichéd themes, and a mere hint at a plot, I’ll write it myself.

Oh no.

No no no no no.

I can no longer hold my smile as I choke back waves of nausea. 

You did it. 

You bought me the #1 New York Times best-selling self-help book.

You shouldn’t have!



April 17, 2022 21:16

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245 comments

Laura Eliz
14:12 May 03, 2022

You have really captured the awkwardness that is being given a gift by someone not close to you!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:48 May 03, 2022

:)

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Beth Whitcomb
02:39 May 02, 2022

Deidre, I laughed out loud several times at my desk at work. I also sheepishly admit I've been the giver of a similar gift (not a self help book, but close). This story is pure wit and fun and maybe even a little lesson to thy self. Thank you!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:59 May 02, 2022

Oh, I have given out many gleeful bags to some horrified expressions...and heard "You shouldn't have!" when I tried to foist a book I loved on another person. Criminal behavior :)

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Pippin Took
16:48 May 01, 2022

Congrats on the win! :)

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Deidra Lovegren
21:59 May 01, 2022

woo hoooooo :)

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Philip Ebuluofor
15:25 May 01, 2022

You are super weight, in your own category. This is your third winning right? Your record have spoken. Congratulation.

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Deidra Lovegren
21:59 May 01, 2022

Third time is the charm. Thanks for the kudos.

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Philip Ebuluofor
11:20 May 05, 2022

Pleasure

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13:22 May 01, 2022

My goodness this was absolutely delicious. Cynically sharp and witty.

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Deidra Lovegren
21:56 May 01, 2022

Have another slice! :) Zero calories . . .

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Rebecca Stack
13:02 May 01, 2022

Fun clever story. I especially liked the line 'No one with abs is sneaking through our garden gate'. It made me chuckle. Thanks. Enjoyed reading it.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:00 May 01, 2022

Frankly, I wouldn't mind it... ;)

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Rebecca Stack
18:04 May 03, 2022

Me neither funnily enough ;)

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Dana Washington
04:18 May 01, 2022

Good one Deidre! Made me want to gift my sister a self-help book for her next birthday instead of the Bible I already bought…

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Deidra Lovegren
22:05 May 01, 2022

Hahahahhaha This MC could use a few Bibles herself...

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00:43 May 01, 2022

Funny story about a depressive /cynical woman! I was expecting / hoping that she will be, O surprise!, actually agreably surprised and thrilled with the book - I wonder what book - if any - she would be happy to be offered and sincerely grateful for the friendly gift!

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Deidra Lovegren
22:00 May 01, 2022

No one is going to make this MC happy. She can rant all she wants :)

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Jose Gonzalez
00:23 May 01, 2022

I love your writing it is very humorous. This story is very similar to Dorothy parker's the waltz or the phone call. One single narrator through out the story but you make it work. You winning everything here but you deserve it

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Deidra Lovegren
22:01 May 01, 2022

Wow -- Dorothy Parker is high praise :) thanks!

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Ophelia Baker
21:37 Apr 30, 2022

I don't even have the words. This is incredible.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:02 May 01, 2022

Ophelia <-- best name and best literary character ever. My latest story is about her, trying to sort things out after death. Thanks for reading :)

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Ophelia Baker
22:44 May 03, 2022

Omg that sounds like an amazing story. Hope you post it; I love your work!

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18:40 Apr 30, 2022

This had me chuckling to myself the whole way through! Loved it, although I guessed wrong. I thought she would get a journal not a self-help book.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:02 May 01, 2022

Oooooh a journal would have been perfect. Or a self-improvement workbook!

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Awando Anthony
16:27 Apr 30, 2022

Nice story. I can relate with it and felt like it was my own you were writing about. Bravo

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Deidra Lovegren
21:56 May 01, 2022

I'm pleased. Thanks for the read. :)

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Suzanne Twadell
12:46 Apr 30, 2022

I loved this. Ate it up. The paragraph about mysteries? Perfection. I'm brand new here, and I'm looking forward to digging in. Thank you for such a grand welcome!

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Deidra Lovegren
12:47 Apr 30, 2022

Lots of talented people here ❤️ Welcome! Looking forward to reading your work.

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H L Mc Quaid
10:38 Apr 30, 2022

this perceptive, funny, biting story is JUST what i needed today. Thank you. And congrats on winning!

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Deidra Lovegren
22:03 May 01, 2022

Beautiful HL McQuaid! How's the movie business going...?? Thanks for reading my rant. :)

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H L Mc Quaid
15:21 May 06, 2022

Starting a TV Pilot. And looking forward to seeing the next version of TMG. ;)

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Deidra Lovegren
16:02 May 06, 2022

YES on the TV Pilot -- looking forward to seeing that on BBC America. Let me know if you know of any decent publicists for hire. :)

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Nandini Shukla
06:20 Apr 30, 2022

I love your take on the prompt! A perfect, humourous story. And that last line completely had me. The character is sooo relatable ! Her reaction to the book was splendid~ Congrats on the win! 😉

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Deidra Lovegren
08:19 Apr 30, 2022

Thanks Nandini :)

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Liz Liz
05:29 Apr 30, 2022

I feel like even if the present was wrapped the main character would have complained about having to open it such was the saltiness of their character 😂 there are lots of fake crime books too 😅 I’m not nitpicking, truly enjoyed this read and was surprised at my reaction to their attitude, maybe cos I’m usually one of those annoying usually cheery sunny-side-up types 😋

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Deidra Lovegren
21:58 May 01, 2022

The MC is definitely exhausting. :)

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Miranda Phillips
02:40 Apr 30, 2022

This story was AMAZING...I wasn't bored for one second and I actually wanted to keep reading. For the record, the MC of your short story was most definitely NOT paper-thin ;P

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Deidra Lovegren
08:22 Apr 30, 2022

Hahaha -- Thanks Miranda. The MC definitely needs a hot yoga session or a large piece of chocolate cake or both.

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Kelsey H
01:05 Apr 30, 2022

This was so much fun to read, love the rant about each book genre and the way you nailed how awkward those social interactions with people you know but don't really consider friends can feel at times!

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Deidra Lovegren
22:03 May 01, 2022

"Friends" -- oy vey! Thanks, Kelsey.

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Wendy Hayes
23:37 Apr 29, 2022

So happy to see a humorous story win. Love the cutting wit! Congratulations on your win.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:04 May 01, 2022

I wish there were a SATIRE prompt each week. We over-50 women would nail it. :)

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Wendy Hayes
13:48 May 06, 2022

Ain't that the truth!

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Arthur Darby
20:16 Apr 29, 2022

love it!

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Deidra Lovegren
20:22 Apr 29, 2022

It really really loves you too❤️

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