“THE GIFT” – LEWIS HYDE

 

This book has been recommended to me by several colleagues, and indeed the internet via those “if you are an artist, you should read this” style lists. I can’t say that the blurb sells this book well, in initially reading it I was skeptical. However, having been so heavily recommended and labelled a “must read”, I decided to bite the bullet and see what the fuss was about.

First things first, it’s a mammoth of a tome. I read it on my kindle (purposefully for that reason, space in bag saving!) and it’s one of those books that seems to be a constant screen swiper. 50 pages later, you’ve achieved another percent and are told there’s another hour and 40 minutes left of the chapter. For anyone looking to tackle this, I’d recommend the kindle version.

This is a book of two halves, and it makes itself very clear in the contents and introduction. The first seven chapters discuss the concepts of gifts, gift exchanges and definitions between commodities, products and what makes a gift. The last 2 chapters are explorations and discussions upon the lives of poets Walt Wiltman and Ezra Pound.

Herein lies the ultimate problem in this book. Though wordy, the first 7 chapters offer interesting insight and discussion into what a gift actually is. There is great exploration into concepts such as commodities: when a gift changes into something else, and how gifts are used in different socio-dynamics. Whilst this doesn’t quite answer the book’s main aim, to explore “the gift” of creativity, it offers interesting reading and a good study into anthropology and human nature.

The last two chapters, the studies on the poets, seem to veer wildly off course and cloud the book’s focus. Pages upon pages of text that doesn’t seem relevant and more like a passion project for Hyde, the author, whose voice comes through clear in these sections. It made me wonder at times, as I trudged through this verbal treacle, as to why the editor had allowed these chapters to be left in at the length they are.

When we finally reach the conclusion, things seem to wrap up nicely, with a few useful gems that I eagerly highlighted. These are not enough to really spark other inspiring thoughts for research or contemplation; their appearances are brief, thin and fleeting. Instead there is too much excessive research and emphasis on areas that don’t really answer the book’s main objective.

This write up casts “The Gift” in a bad light, it’s not intentionally meant to. Perhaps it’s purpose was slightly lost on me. Despite providing information and discussion on quite a niche topic, there isn’t enough work in here discussing the effects of creativity as a gift, or the plights of artists as gift givers to feel it comprehensively fulfils its desired outcome.

Give it a read, but one I would move to the bottom of the majority of reading lists.