Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good book!

by Vivian Lawson Hogue

I remember many decades ago setting aside my own little book niche in our bookcase. Naturally it was on the bottom shelf as that was closest to the floor where I preferred to sit and read, barefooted in the summer and cold-footed in the winter.

The topmost shelf held my dad’s books, which included his set of Shakespeare plays, all with damaged spines. In his choppy scrawl he had hand-printed the titles on the now-bare paper. On the next shelf was his 1907 set of McGuffey’s Readers, a classic collection of grade school reading books designed to teach reading and morals at the same time. On other shelves were medical books, British fiction and texts in his field of plants, soils and geology.

I gathered my own collection and pushed it down to the end, thinking it would brighten some pretty dull stuff. All in a row were my favorites, dominated by Little Golden Books about Christmas: “The Littlest Angel,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “The Christmas Story,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells” and “The Night Before Christmas.”

Not all Christmas books are tales of tinsel and revelry. When I taught high school world history, I sometimes read “The Little Match Girl” to my classes. Our textbook made mention of it, and I learned that students had never read this classic. I was duty-bound to pull my stool closer and read it with as much drama as possible. It is a short story by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, which introduces a destitute young girl who sold matches on the street to support herself. To provide warmth on one bitterly cold night, she lit all her matches individually, and in each flame she saw pleasant visions such as Christmas trees, feasts and her beloved deceased grandmother. As I finished the last sentence, the students were solemn and a few fingertips wiped at tears.

A story called “Christmas Day in the Morning” by Pearl S. Buck is a favorite of my longtime friend, Carolyn Lewis. A 1930s teenage farm boy wishes to express his love for his father with a present, but he has no money. With the only resources he has, he has an idea that would please his father much more than he imagined. The father’s response would benefit the boy in other relationships as an adult.

With or without a holiday theme, the gift of a book at Christmas can take many avenues. The bond created when someone shares their time to read to a child can last a lifetime. They can influence a young person in the choice of careers or hobbies. An autobiography or talking book can ease stress for the working person or fill the too-quiet hours for the elderly. Even a book of crosswords and puzzles can brighten the brain while waiting for a plane or medical appointment.

I recall a Saturday trip to the Salvation Army store with my mother when I was in my mid-30s. She frequented the book section there and would often buy books for my pre-teen children. On this day, I was browsing elsewhere when I heard her call my name. When I located her, she was sitting on a stack of practically new World Book Encyclopedias. She had squatter’s rights for $5 on a collection originally worth $1,200. A gift of knowledge was literally at her feet.

With Christmas and its current emphasis on excessive gifts and commercial monetary surplus, it is a good time to consider gift books that can change a life, exercise thinking processes, produce a pleasant moment or help “find Waldo.” It is a holiday that recognizes the birth of a Promise. There is a story in a best seller book about that birth of “good news with great joy.” Known as the Holy Bible, it is amazing to know its success was predicted by prophets, not profits.