Book Reviews | June 2023 | Alex Johnson

Gifts & Books: From Early Myth to the Present

Bodleian Libraries

Gifts & Books, the new free exhibition at the Bodleian Libraries running through October 29, looks at the many reasons for giving books as presents, from Virgil's Aeneid to the birth of the book token and the rise of modern day charity bookshops. Accompanying it is an excellent volume, Gifts & Books: From Early Myth to the Present.

Edited by Nicholas Perkins, Associate Professor and Tutor in English at St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford, it is beautifully illustrated throughout in colour, mostly using examples from books and objects from the Bodleian Libraries’ own collections. It features seven very readable essays plus an introduction from Perkins in which he suggests that the book may even be a suitable present itself. 

The contents include:

* Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at the University of Exeter, Francesca Stavrakopoulou on Gods, Gifts and Writing in Ancient South-west Asian Imaginations

* Writing the Body and Gifting the Dharma: Buddhist Traditions of Gift, Text and Knowledge by Camillo A. Formigatti, curator of South Asian manuscripts and information analyst for Oriental manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford.

* Donation and Desire in Medieval Books, by Perkins himself

* Felicity Heal, Emeritus Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, on Gifts and Exchange in Early Modern Society 

* Faith Binckes, Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Bath Spa University on The Gift of Reading

* Myths of the Gift for Children and Young Adults, by Maria Sachiko Cecire, Associate Professor of Literature at Bard College. 

The final chapter - Two Cups, a Shell and Some Books – Reflections on Anthropology and Gifting - is by Professor of Anthropology at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, Inge Daniels.