The Help Desk: Putting the "no" in "novelty books"

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Dear Cienna,

My husband's family knows I love books, so the problem is that they buy me books. Why is it a problem? Because every book they buy me is some cheap-ass novelty front-of-store yuk-yuk book, with titles like "Sports Facts for the Throne Room" or "Matza Ball Mama's Life Tips for the Soul" or something gross that. I have a collection of these monstrosities, all printed on yellowing pulp rag, all with horrible line illustrations, and all with grade-B humor or schlocky advice.

So what do I like to read? Everything! If they just asked a bookseller "what's a good book for my daughter-in-law?" They'd do fine. Seriously.

But they're nice people, and confessing now that I'm ungrateful and overly polite would be an insult. What should I do?

Missy, Monroe

Dear Missy,

Normally I'm not an advocate for punting problems to someone else, but this problem is not yours, it is your husband's. Having lived through the dawn and death of my mother's three marriages and the marriages of several close friends, I have observed what it takes to build a successful partnership: don't keep secret families in neighboring towns – or at least don't add them to your primary family's Costco membership; don't marry my mother; and be prepared to actually step up and be a partner.

Your husband's family means well – they want to give you thoughtful gifts. But they don't live with you; your husband does. They don't know your taste in books; your husband should. They're not your family, they are your husband's.

If your husband knows his family sucks at gift giving, it's his job to step in and handle the situation so you don't look like a picky ingrate. Give your husband a list of books or authors that you would like to read and tell him to casually pass it along to his family, as in "I overheard Missy talking about really wanting to read these author/books if you need gift ideas," not "Missy hates the books you buy her, so here – buy her one of these."

If the next birthday or holiday rolls around and you're still stuck with pulp, your husband should tell his family you're going giftless for future holidays and to donate to a selected charity instead. And if he simply can't be bothered to act as intermediary between you and his family, check your Costco account and think hard about what "partnership" means to you.