Back when my sisters and I used to draw names and exchange gifts at Christmas time, I never really cared which sister got my name. I could always count on one sister to give something practical that I would definitely use, and I could always count on the other to give some type of apparel (with coordinating accessories) that was guaranteed to look perfect on me. It was a win-win situation for me every year.
They were not so lucky, however. I freely admit that I am terrible at picking out the perfect gift for others.
At any rate, the year that really stands out in my memory was the year Practical Sis showed up with two paper grocery sacks stuffed to overflowing with used paperbacks. Some people might have preferred a nice, new bestseller with a hardcover, but she knew me well enough to know that I just wanted books, books, and more books. She took her full spending limit to my favorite used bookstore, and basically told Darryl, the proprietor, to “fill ‘er up!”
Those bags held romance, historical, science fiction, fantasy, mystery and classics. There were books by everyone from Dana Fuller Ross to Patricia Cornwell to David Eddings. I devoured family sagas, time-travel romances, wizard and sorcery epics, cheesy Harlequins, and steamy bodice-rippers. I read them all.
Okay, I didn’t finish Anna Karenina. That book has become my personal nemesis and I swear to God I am going to read it someday.
In later years, after we stopped exchanging gifts, Practical Sis always made a point of giving books to my children as Christmas and birthday gifts. She is an educated woman with adult children of her own, and she loves to give books that are controversial and important, like the year she gave my son Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
(For the record, I read it, loved it, recommend it.)
Books are great gifts. When you give a book to someone, you are sharing more than a bunch of words that may or may not help that person pass a couple of hours. You are giving the gift of adventure, enjoyment, escape, education, emotion. You are sharing a little part of yourself by saying “Hey, this book spoke to me, and I want to know what it says to you.”
A book doesn’t have to be scholarly to be good. If you like it, it doesn’t matter whether it’s ever been on a bestseller list or part of a school curriculum. It doesn’t have to be educational, and it really doesn’t even have to be memorable. It can be all those things, but sometimes a good book is just . . . a good book. Something you read, enjoy, and move on.
I read Harlequin romances, and I read the works of Goethe. I’m a fan of Twain, Austen, and Vonnegut, but I welcome the opportunity to spend an evening with Debbie Macomber’s newest tale. I enjoyed Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as much as I adored Emma. Absolutely despised Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’ll gift it to a friend if it’s what makes my friend happy.
I’ve read The Stinky Cheese Man to my kids so many times that I have memorized certain passages. I love that book. Sometimes, I get to laughing so much that I can’t finish. Is it a literary masterpiece that’s going to change the world? Absolutely not. Is it hilarious? Absolutely. At least, I think so.
Maybe I’m a bad parent for letting them read books like that, along with Captain Underpants and Goosebumps. My daughter grew up reading the works of Lurlene McDaniel with as much devotion as I had for Judy Blume and Paul Zindel at her age. My oldest son went through a Rick Riordan phase, followed by James Patterson and others.
In this season of excess, when people are scrambling to buy the next game system or overpriced tablet, it’s easy to forget that books can be some of the greatest gifts to give. We have Black Friday and Cyber Monday; we have people giving up on holiday meals with their loved ones so they can get a really good price on a new TV.
Why not give a book or two?
Welcome to Read Tuesday, December 9, 2014. This is a day when authors across all genres reduce their prices or create special deals to encourage Christmas shoppers to do something a little different. Give a book. Give someone you love a chance to appreciate the beauty of words on a page. Give the gift of literacy to someone who might not buy a book for himself.
Gift a gift to yourself as well. On Read Tuesday, find a good deal and buy yourself a book you might not try otherwise. Try out a new author, a new genre, a new series. Grow just a little bit.
Let’s name some names in the comments. What books would you recommend to others? What books have you always wanted to read but never have? I’d love to hear from you; maybe I’ll find a new favorite book or author.
Update 12/09/2014: Practical Sis has given me permission to add the following picture here, just to let the world know that she isn’t always quite so practical. She is the one on the left, and I have never been so proud.