“Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.” —George Bernard Shaw
Great advice, Mr. Shaw. Books tend to be a very personal thing to give — I think you need to have a pretty good grasp of a person’s taste in reading before you can give them a book (and then wait nervously for their response). For children, it is a little easier because they have yet to fully form their reading palate. Either way, I firmly agree with Shaw in that life is too short for crappy books so why would you give them to someone else?
We didn’t have many traditions growing up but there was one in particular that I miss, and it was actually one of the tactics my parents devised to stall us and keep us busy. The first stalling tactic was that our stockings were hung by our beds and we were allowed to open them on our own and keep ourselves busy with what was inside until our parents got up.
The second stalling tactic, as we rushed out to look at all the amazing things under the tree, was that there was always one unwrapped gift each for me and my brother: a book. So while we ate breakfast and waited for my aunt and grandparents to arrive, even as excited as we were to get into the gifts and giving, we had something to read. Often these were hardcovers and illustrated — we got picture books when we were younger then, as we grew, Muppet Annuals (I really wish Annuals were a bigger thing in North America), nature guides, and other non-fiction books .
In hindsight, these were not inexpensive gifts. My parents didn’t have a lot of money and new hardcover books have never been cheap. At the time, I remember I would leaf through and skim-read them, but my little excited self didn’t get completely wrapped up. I’d always read them later though, often late in the day, after the gifts had been opened, food had been eaten, and everyone was back home.
This year, I received an unexpected gift from a friend: a book. It’s sitting unwrapped under my little tree and, while I have a half dozen books I am already reading, I may very well crack open the new one on Christmas morning.