Give the holiday gift with the most staying power
Even the best Christmas gifts lose their luster within a few months. Books have a staying power few gifts can match. I have nothing left from Christmases long past except my childhood books, each still prized. This season, give books. They are our bulwarks against time, ignorance, and barbarity.
For weeks we have been inundated with gift catalogs – page after page of things to give for the holidays. But the operative word is “things.” So, if you are still shopping, you might consider giving someone you really care about a book for Christmas or Hanukkah. Think of it as the gift of wisdom.Skip to next paragraph
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Few things are more lastingly satisfying than a life of reading. I still have my childhood copies of “The Little Engine That Could,” “Loopy,” “Uncle Remus,” and “Old Mother West Wind Stories.” None of those children’s books is less than 65 years old, and though I have nothing else left from Christmases two-thirds of a century ago, I still have my books from childhood.
In our family we have a Christmas tradition. Everyone is given a book, because if every other gift is a dud, “a book never faileth.” Few other gifts are the equal of reading. Not new skis, toys, ties, or even an iPad. Life without books can be rather vacant.
Recently, sitting at this computer, I turned to the bookshelf behind me and discovered the autobiographical work “The Confessions of St. Augustine.” (The painters had shuffled the books in the library when repainting recently.) It was a 1991 Book of the Month Club selection and had remained unopened since my wife purchased it for me. (Imagine trying to turn on a Kindle untouched after 20 years!)
I reached back, read the first page of this journey from sinful youth to Christian conversion, and discovered a treasure written in AD 397. Reading the thoughts and wisdom of someone who lived more than a millennium and a half ago is true time travel.
The very act of holding a book is a sensual experience. It’s old-fashioned and comforting. My financial manager recently confessed a deep secret: His wife was going to Baltimore for the evening and he relished the time alone with a book.
“What I find very exciting is sitting in a room in an otherwise dark house, resting in my chair with a blanket over me. I will have a fire in the fireplace and but one reading lamp on. The dog is lying beside me, and I am reading a book. I have trouble defining a happier moment.”
Another thing about books – they have a staying power few other gifts can match. Who will ever forget the first time reading “Don Quixote” or “Moby-Dick” or “Pride and Prejudice”? They are passports into other worlds. Years later, I still chuckle recalling the bawdy adventures of the fictional “Flashman” character. But the Flashman chronicles are first-rate historical fiction, however implausible.