A forever gift

No gift better fits a friend or relative than a book.

What started me thinking about books as gifts was more than today's gift-book roundup. It was two books I just read: "Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter's Questions About God," by Michael Novak and Jana Novak (Pocket Books); and "A Return to Innocence: Philosophical Guidance in an Age of Cynicism," by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD (Regan Books).

These writers carry on a lengthy correspondence, a father and daughter, a doctor with a young man he knows well. They publish their thoughts. Both books offer invaluable moral advice in an age when many young people appear adrift. They sparked memories of two young men I taught.

My first teaching job was at an Indian mission school in British Columbia, Canada. After that, I taught at a reform school for boys in upstate New York. In both cases, the boys were residents at the school. In both cases they were not there voluntarily.

George, a junior in high school, was a Haida Indian. He was one of the few who could read. We bridged our immense cultural and linguistic differences, in part, by reading "Gulliver's Travels." I have no idea what happened to him, but I know that book made an impression on him about universal traits in human nature. George taught me never to underestimate the power of a book.

Kevin is serving a lifeterm in prison. He never made it out of the inner turmoil that brought him into the reform school where we met. He was a senior and could barely read. Sadly, there was no book I could give him.

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