Give a Book. Or Not.

So, last night was the first night of Hanukkah, there are only two more shopping days until Christmas, Kwanzaa begins on Friday, and if you were looking for St. Nicholas, he came way back on December 6th. Yesterday was Yule for both Christians and Wiccans. Chances are you probably know at least one person who has a birthday this week–the chances go up dramatically if you include those folks on your Facebook friend page. What do any of these things have to do with anything–or each other? Well, they’re all gift-giving opportunities, of course.

The meme du jour is Books Are Great Gifts. Many of the blogs I regularly read have passed on the message eloquently.

I have a sentimental attachment to the printed page. The first book I remember receiving as a gift was called Laurie and the Yellow Curtains. It was given to me by my Aunt Barbara and it was about a little girl who desperately wanted curtains for her tree house. I loved the book mostly because the heroine and I had the same name (I was Laurie until I was eight or so). But the book also touched my imagination. I wasn’t the sort of girl who would ever have a tree house. We always lived in apartments. My space was rarely my own, and I had very little say about the decor. I seem to remember that Laurie was a bit of a whiner. We had that in common. I remember the cover of the book–the old-fashioned textured feel of it, the brilliant yellow of the curtains, the way they appeared to lift a bit in the breeze as Laurie looked out, smiling. (I wrote this description before I Googled the title–and there was the cover on Amazon. Totally freaked me out to see that it was exactly how I remembered it!)

I’ve read books to my children since before they were born. My daughter’s room has way more books than clothes in it. My son is addicted to some Scholastic dragon book series and National Geographic Kids Magazine. He started writing his first short story on the computer last week and announced the title of his to-be written novel when he was five.

Books R Us here at the Benedict house. Books are wonderful things. And I hope that books play a big role at your house, too. I hope that if you’re buying a gift for someone, you’ll consider buying him or her a book. Something to excite their imaginations, something they can share with their friends, something that will inspire them.

But. (And you knew there was one….)

If you’re not in the buying mood, consider this: You have a story to share. Everyone does.

Are there children in your life? If so, the greatest gift that you could give them is your time and interest. If you’re ten, twenty, thirty years older than that child, you’re practically an antique! Like a book, you can offer a child a peek into the world that existed before they did. (They won’t believe you at first–I know I had a hard time believing that my parents had ANY sort of life before I came along.) Contemporary media is so focused on the immediate moment, creating a constant buzz of activity and entertainment. But if we’re too busy in the moment, we don’t have any reason to pause and look back. Our common cultural references are reduced to a kind of shorthand: smiley faces, and giant yellow arches connected to create an “M”. What you can offer is a connection that’s both personal and, well, historical.

No time that you spend one-on-one with a child is wasted. And the thing about stories is that they perpetuate themselves. They grow as thoughts and as memories. Sometimes we appropriate others’ stories as our own, making them bigger, more interesting, or less frightening. They feed us and sustain us and make us feel less alone in the world. They can also make us more curious about the world outside of ourselves, which often leads to an effort to learn more, which often leads to…

books, of course!


If you’re nowhere near a Big City and long to stroll down a thoroughfare to see fabulously decorated shop windows, drop in at my friend Tara Bradford’s Paris Parfait blog. For the past week or so, she’s put up some holiday photos to die for–Tiffany’s included!

In the self-promotion department, Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts (available for pre-order!) was put to the Page 69 test. I’m happy to report that I’m very happy with the results.

If you have a book to promote in 2009, you’ll want to check out MJ Rose’s very popular Buzz Your Book class that’s in session only once this coming year. MJ writes: “It’s a really relevant class in these times where authors need to do more themselves for their own books. Our alumnae is pretty impressive, from Joshusa Henkin to Jenny Shortridge to Karen Dionne.” If you’re interested, sign up here. Starts January 5th.

7 thoughts on “Give a Book. Or Not.”

  1. Laurie,
    Seeing as I am out of touch with so many aspects of reality I am looking for a suggestion. My granddaughter lives in a rural community here in MI and will be 9 on the 28th. I suppose her interests are typical 9 year old interests so what book would you suggest? It should be one readily available at Barnes & Nobles so I can get it in the mail.



  2. Pinckney says:

    The best book I ever got for Christmas was THE HAWKLINE MONSTER: A GOTHIC WESTERN, by Richard Brautigan.

    I was fourteen, and it was given to me by a sweet old lady, a family friend who knew I liked Westerns and monster stories. Turned out it was really really dirty. The old dear had no idea. I loved it to death.

    Moral: Give a kid a dirty book and you’ll make him a reader forever!

  3. Hey, Mark! You should check out Juliana Baggott’s books–especially the ones written under her N.E.Bode pseudonym. Juliana’s a terrific writer. One series is called The Anybodies. If your granddaughter is into big fantasy, she’d love the Redwall Series of books. There are a blue million of them and they’re about warrior mice and other critters. Pomegranate devoured them–girls seem to like them better than boys do. Have fun shopping!

  4. Thanks Laura…I’ll give them a look see but Fun Shopping” is there such a thing?

  5. LitPark says:

    Aw, I love this post, Laura. The first book I remember getting as a gift and reading over and over was MISS SUZY SQUIRREL:

    And the first one that really made me say WOW was THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats, which is still the most perfect book for the winter:

  6. Thanks for putting in this link, Susan. I’d never seen Miss Suzy, but I love Arnold Lobel’s illustrations–particularly Frog and Toad!

  7. Dearest Laura,

    thanks for all the well wishes! Books are always great gifts — in response to P’s comment, I loved RB’s Willard and His Bowling Trophies. Hope you’re getting geared up for Christmas!

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