Gift giving has always been important in my family. We have a few traditions—my mother and I exchange yearly pajama sets, my brother gives my father an inscrutable kitchen appliance with no label attached—but most often, our gift guide boils down to a simple rule: give something thoughtful, personal, and unique. The older I get, the more difficult this charge becomes; my family members live in different states, so we aren’t able to get together to establish new inside jokes or hobbies; there are only so many Doctor Who posters one can reasonably gift another person before the gesture becomes empty.
A present is as much for the giver as it is for the receiver: as Maya Angelou writes, “giving liberates the soul of the giver.” There is pleasure in finding the perfect bauble for your partner, or the most practical power tool for your father. A gift is about the relationship it nurtures and sustains—not the objects exchanged. That’s what makes it so hard to find the perfect gift—no diamond earrings or set of golf clubs can express the deep love and affection that bind together families.
Many bioGraph books begin as gifts
At bioGraph, many of our books begin as gifts. Families give a beloved mother and grandmother a place to tell her story; a group of young business people get together to create a book honoring their mentor—and to give her the opportunity to spread her pithy advice, cheesy one-liners, and heartfelt words of encouragement to a broader audience. These gifts are deep expressions of affection and respect. But they also give someone you love an occasion to tell their story. Maybe your grandfather is reticent to talk about all that he’s accomplished in his life; or your mentor is too busy to sit down and write out the advice she dispenses daily to the young people who work for and around her. A bioGraph book gives them an opportunity to celebrate themselves, to see themselves as you see them.
For example, we often work with sprawling families to celebrate the milestone birthdays of their patriarchs and matriarchs. We collect testimonies from children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren about the indelible mark these figures have left on the lives of their loved ones. Often, the most powerful memories are the most mundane: teaching children how to drive; helping great-grandchildren with algebra after school. A bioGraph book offers you the opportunity to dignify these memories: to give them the recognition and reverence they deserve. Reflecting on these shared memories—from tender and sublime moments to absurd family stories—draws the family together. It reminds family members of the ties that bind them. And it reinforces those ties of affection, love, and shared history for generations to come: a bioGraph book is a gift that will endure. Unlike a kitchen gizmo or a bunch of roses, our books become family heirlooms.
Linking generations and staying connected
Books not only bind families together across generations. They also have the capacity to reach readers who might not otherwise be able to be present for a key moment or an important revelation. In the present moment of social distancing, we’ve helped families stay connected even as they shelter in place. For instance, we’re working with new parents, Jenny and Ben, to record the first year of their baby, Cyrus’ life. The book features full color pictures of baby Cyrus’ first smile and first laugh and anecdotes about his antics. While his grandparents can’t be physically present to cherish (and spoil) their first grandbaby, working with bioGraph gives them an alternate way to express their love—and to cross some of the barriers that separate them. When Cyrus is older, the book will be waiting: a physical testimony of who he is, where he comes from: and how much he was loved.
A force of good in the world
In her meditation on charity and gift-giving, Maya Angelou notes the almost sacred quality of the gift. Giving is not only endorsed by scripture. It also tangibly makes the world a more humane and livable place: “The giver is as enriched as is the recipient, and more important, that intangible but very real psychic force of good in the world is increased.” I think about this passage often, now, as I pick a birthday gift for my mother or a Father’s Day present for my dad. I want to be sure that my gift makes some contribution to the health of our world: reinforcing frayed bonds of amity; reminding myself and others of the deep richness of our shared lives.
At bioGraph, we too aspire to live up to Angelou’s high standard: we produce books that actively contribute to the “psychic force of good in the world.” Telling stories about the people we love doesn’t just preserve their legacy. It also enriches the world’s humanity. bioGraph exists to make it easier for everyone to write their own life story: we believe that everyone has a story to tell; that telling those stories is part of what makes us human. Each opportunity to reflect on your past and look to your future—a birthday or an anniversary; a promotion at work or a personal triumph—is sacred to our work. We give people the tools and support they need to tell their stories in their own voices. Each of our books reflects an individual: as charming, funny, and sweet as the person you love—or, for that matter, as salty and curmudgeonly. It is through writing that we make meaning out of history, that we turn experience into wisdom, memories into living monuments.