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

20:03 Apr 29, 2022

Lively writing. Not easy to write comedy, but you make it look easy. The quick pace and focus on one incident made me keep reading. Very funny. Send it to know-it-all friends.

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Deidra Lovegren
20:24 Apr 29, 2022

🙏🏻 for the kind words. I’m old enough to have culled the know-it-alls. The Dunning–Kruger effect…

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19:28 Apr 29, 2022

I'm literally the happiest person right now. Congratulations. This story was beautiful.

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Deidra Lovegren
20:03 Apr 29, 2022

You are beautiful, Abi. Thanks for your sweet comments.

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Reina Johnson
18:13 Apr 29, 2022

Congratulations! This line is probably my favorite: True Crime—as opposed to fake crime? So many relatable thoughts. I love that it was a self-help book.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:46 Apr 29, 2022

Self-help books make my eyes involuntarily roll back in my head. I actually tried to find some on "Raising Adult Children" (since children in their early 20's suck), but I put them all back on the shelf. Stuff I hear in the line at Target is more useful (and scientifically sound.)

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Michele Duess
05:22 Apr 30, 2022

Children in the early 20's suck? I feel better now, since I thought it was just mine...

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Deidra Lovegren
08:21 Apr 30, 2022

Oh, Michele. Let's do have coffee...

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Dana Washington
04:23 May 01, 2022

What about adult children in their 30’s with the grandchildren that they think it’s your obligation to provide childcare for? Maybe I should write a self-help book on that topic?

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Chris Morris
17:15 Apr 29, 2022

Congratulations on the win. Obviously well-deserved. What a funny story, and so true! A friend of mine forced me to borrow one of his books as a recommendation about three years ago. And despite me telling him I had a million books to get through and probably wouldn't have the time to read the fantasy book he loaned me (and hasn't actually read himself yet), it's still on my bookshelf. Well done again!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:18 Apr 29, 2022

Take the book and recommend it to someone else. (That's just what he did.) That's how 47% of all books circulate :) Thanks for the lovely words, Chris. And have you thought about coming on the "Read Lots Write Lots" podcast? https://www.readlotswritelots.com/previous/ Drop me an email: lovegren.deidra@gmail.com to discuss

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Chris Morris
17:29 Apr 29, 2022

Ooh, thanks for the offer. It's been a while since I've been on a podcast. I'll certainly email.

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Nimmi Rajiv
17:02 Apr 29, 2022

Spot on Reedsy. Deidra you are one clever short story writer! Completely engaging from start to finish, and don’t you known”us” well. I bet this isn’t your first win. Keep up the scintillating style👏🏽👏🏽

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Deidra Lovegren
17:09 Apr 29, 2022

Third win, Eight Shortlists...but it's been a while for the win. Glad to see there is still some gas in the tank.

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Michele Duess
16:46 Apr 29, 2022

I'm the culprit who will gift my poetry and stories to victims who claim they're interested. I even have a young niece I gift stories to although it comes with a gift card. (Hey I want to torment her but I have limits, lol.) Because of that, I'll read your relative's stuff no matter how bad. And I like books as presents. But gifting a self-help book should be a crime. Perhaps a place in the outer circle of purgatory for such people. Congrats on the win. I was beginning to think the narrator was just cynical but I agree...they shouldn't have!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:01 Apr 29, 2022

Exactly. At this point in the 21st century, we should just gift cryptocurrency or Starbucks cards. (But don't give Elon Musk any more ideas.)

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Zakirah Green
16:45 Apr 29, 2022

So funny and yet speaks the truth of the absurdity of our lives. Why have we stopped wrapping presents? And should we be giving them in the first place? '' No one with abs is sneaking through our garden gate.'' Had to laugh out loud.

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Deidra Lovegren
17:02 Apr 29, 2022

I'm pretty sure 2022 is a mockumentary writ to scale. All we can do is embrace absurdism at this point.

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16:34 Apr 29, 2022

Well written. Perfectly captures the dystopian nature of the capitalistic society we live in. I would have liked the tiniest nod to 'hope,' but perhaps that would take us over the word limit... One last thought: it started with someone being given a book. Not a book recommendation...

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Deidra Lovegren
17:08 Apr 29, 2022

No hope in the 21st c. dystopia. Just tissue paper :) The Reedsy prompts are "flexible." Choose your own adventure.

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Daniel R. Hayes
16:25 Apr 29, 2022

Hi Deidra, congrats on the big win this week!! :)

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Deidra Lovegren
16:33 Apr 29, 2022

Just earned the Reedsy $5 submission fee for the next 50 weeks :)

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Deidra Lovegren
16:33 Apr 29, 2022

It's how the casino and drug dealers get you.

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Daniel R. Hayes
16:41 Apr 29, 2022

Hahahahaha, I know, right!? Only difference here is that everyone wins with these great stories every week!! Hope you have a great weekend!!

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Aaliyah Hussain
15:46 Apr 29, 2022

I laughed out loud! I especially loved the whole rant about mystery novels (I don't know what's going on with my neck either). Such a great submission!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:38 Apr 29, 2022

I'm buying us turtlenecks and scarfs. Works for Diane Keaton...

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Aaliyah Hussain
20:36 Apr 29, 2022

Sounds perfect!

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Suma Jayachandar
15:37 Apr 29, 2022

Woohoo, CONGRATULATIONS!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:39 Apr 29, 2022

That's how we do, Suma. Let's go!

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15:28 Apr 29, 2022

Oh my god! You don't know how happy I am! Congratulations for the win. You've reiterated your position as the greatest reedsy writer of all time. Well deserved really! Damn!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:47 Apr 29, 2022

Not sure about all that. And where is your writing, young man? Let's go.

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17:04 Apr 29, 2022

Lol. I just submitted. I take lot of time to write approximately 3000 words, which is pathetic. I always wonder how can people write books? I guess I'd never know. And yes, you're the greatest. Period.

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Deidra Lovegren
17:13 Apr 29, 2022

You will find your characters who will MAKE you write them a book. You have so much to say. Immense talent.

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17:37 Apr 29, 2022

I hope. I feel like I only have one character like in "The Life Of Kyle Jackson" and the story I just submitted. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or not. It seems I'm unable to flesh out more than one character. Lol.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:09 Apr 29, 2022

You are 18. You aren't even a character yet. :)

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Scout Tahoe
15:12 Apr 29, 2022

Deirda! This is: (choose one) 1. Amazing 2. Incredible 3. Terrific I read this last week but became too lazy to comment. I should have. Third win? You go girl. I absolutely love the: (choose all) 1. Humor 2. Sarcastic-ness 3. All of it

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Deidra Lovegren
16:57 Apr 29, 2022

I'll have the chocolate cake, please.

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Cindy Strube
15:01 Apr 29, 2022

🥳 Woooo! Winner!! Congratulations!🎉 Been there… The only person I’ve known who ALWAYS got books right was my grandma.

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Deidra Lovegren
16:58 Apr 29, 2022

Hooray for grandma. She needs to pass along her good taste because...bruh...

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Cindy Strube
17:44 Apr 29, 2022

She’s where I inherited my general love of reading. We were very close. She passed away 35 years ago, but her influence lives!

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Deidra Lovegren
18:10 Apr 29, 2022

A great woman, indeed. I love her already.

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Lisa Lange
23:23 Apr 27, 2022

Love how you captured the gift-receiver’s thoughts punctuated by your “You shouldn’t have” refrain. But I particularly like your ending punctuation to all her haughty thoughts with a self-help book. Very clever.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:39 Apr 27, 2022

Great comment. I didn't realize how much this ungrateful chick needs a truckload of self-help books. :)

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22:02 Apr 27, 2022

I really like this story. This is so true. My family in Maine used to have wonderful gift giving experiences, but since my parents passed away, now they do a "Yankee Christmas Exchange". That is, they buy a gift no more than 25 dollars. And all the names are put in a hat and you go around and pick the name and give your present. If they don't like it, they put it up for auction again and we have to pick a name for that same gift. Don't bother buying anything too nice, people tend to hate everything.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:21 Apr 27, 2022

"People tend to hate everything" is my family's motto. I understand the frozen smiles and the side eye glances from here :)

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Lainey Levens
01:00 Apr 27, 2022

I would be lying if I said this hasn't happened to me... The line, "To compound insult to injury, you're going to ask me about this book when I see you again." It is the most accurate thing I've read in a while... And let's be honest: The cookbook mentioned was just flat out fantastic. Confession: I still purchase kid cookbooks because the recipes are easy lol. It was AMAZING!!! Please continue writing things like these...it brings laughter to these unfortunate moments.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:40 Apr 27, 2022

Oh, the awkwardness of the post-digital age. Where is Emily Post when you need her? Thanks for the great comment. Just keepin' it real.

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Ashley Bowie
14:15 Apr 25, 2022

I love that this is entirely the internal rant that happens when someone does something uncomfortable. The pace is perfect for feeling the emotions and conveying the 30 second plot. Loved it!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:59 Apr 25, 2022

Woo hoo! Thanks, Ashley. I appreciate the love.

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Lavonne H.
03:44 Apr 25, 2022

OMG! I can't stop laughing ...rolling on the (rather icky) floor. This is entirely each and every thought I have had for the last 10 years with non-wanted gifts (you could add the ubiquitous gift cards for hardware stores into the mix as well.) Deidra, I won't bog down all the comments you already have, repeating what wonderful lines you have typed. Except to say "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 m...

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Deidra Lovegren
11:18 Apr 25, 2022

Now gift cards are another story . . .

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Erin Belmares
03:00 Apr 25, 2022

This piece is awesome it’s like exactly how those interactions go but no one dared to say it I love it so much

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Deidra Lovegren
11:18 Apr 25, 2022

Nice to know the feeling is mutual :)

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