The Gift of Thanks: The Roots and Rituals of Gratitude

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9780151013319: The Gift of Thanks: The Roots and Rituals of Gratitude

Known as an ‘anthropologist of everyday life,’ Margaret Visser has, in five award-winning books, uncovered and illuminated the intriguing and unexpected meanings of everyday objects and habits. Now she turns her keen eye to another custom so frequently encountered that it often escapes notice: saying ‘Thank you.’ What do we really mean by these two simple words?

This fascinating inquiry into all aspects of gratitude ranges from the unusual determination with which parents teach their children to thank, to the difference between speaking the words and feeling them, to the ways different cultures handle the complex matters of giving, receiving, and returning favors and presents. Visser illuminates the fundamental opposition in our own culture between gift-giving and commodity exchange, and the similarities between gratitude and its opposite, vengefulness. The Gift of Thanks considers cultural history, including the modern battle of social scientists to pin down the notion of thankfulness and account for it, and the newly awakened scientific interest in the biological and evolutionary roots of emotions.

With her engaging combination of curiosity and erudition, Visser once again reveals the extraordinary in the everyday.

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About the Author:

MARGARET VISSER is an award-winning author and essayist. Much Depends on Dinner was named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times. The Rituals of Dinner won the IACP Literary Food Writing Award and the Jane Grigson Award, and was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The Geometry of Love was a finalist for the Charles Taylor Prize. Margaret Visser taught classics at York University for 18 years and now devotes her time to research and writing.

From Publishers Weekly:

Starred Review. Like a modern Ruth Benedict immersed in classical literature, Visser (Much Depends on Dinner) examines what it really means, in the course of human interaction, to be thankful. Her kindly book turns on itself in an exhaustive but continually engrossing fashion. Beginning with the assumption that [g]ratitude must be freely given; otherwise, it might be a polite show, but it is not gratitude, Visser asks many questions of cultures East and West and provides a plethora of answers. The obscured and deeper meaning of giving thanks is probed through such divergent cultural markers as the work of Georg Simmel and Dickens; the Bible and Proust; Japanese sumimasen, which is both a thanking and an apologizing, and C.C. Baxter in Bill Wilder's The Apartment; Plato's Laws and Seneca's massive treatise on gift giving and the slipperiness of saying you're welcome in today's U.K. What is tipping all about? What is the etymological relationship between votive, vow, favors, grace and gratitude? What might the gestures of courtesy—the curtsy for example—be? Overall, this is a delightful and graceful gift of a book, for which any fortunate recipient will be thankful. (Nov. 19)
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