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.
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Give someone a book for Christmas because of the sheer pleasure it conveys.Skip to next paragraph
Books may be the truest of loves.
A friend who grew up in Argentina recalled “our small, British school, 60 girls, from kindergarten to high school. [It had] a one-room library filled from floor to ceiling with books. Once a year, one by one, the last day of school, the headmistress summoned us. She chose the books we’d take home over our three-month summer holiday. I took them to the ranch where we spent most of our summers. I remember sitting under the trees or up in some branches or lying under them reading, reading, reading: ‘Little Men,’ ‘Little Women,’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ I hope the books stayed in Buenos Aires after the headmistress sold the school and returned to England.”
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Two centuries later Jefferson’s words, “I cannot live without books,” still ring true.
Books have changed the course of history. Mass printing of Bibles in the 16th century broke the medieval church’s proprietary control over what people should believe.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” exposing the brutality of human slavery, prompted President Lincoln to say, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” The quip may well be apocryphal, but the implications were spot on.
Books are our bulwarks against ignorance and barbarity. President Eisenhower once said, “Don’t be afraid to … read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.”
I once gave a commencement address suggesting new graduates read a book a week. They groaned. But then I added, “If you only read 30 books a year, you will be far better off than someone who does not read at all.”
It really takes selflessness to give a book as a gift. It requires thinking hard about what someone else will enjoy. Isn’t such selfless giving what Christmas is about?
Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.