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The Joy of Book-Giving by Paola Merrill

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The Joy of Book-Giving

Growing up in my family, the holidays always involved the gifting of books. There were several reasons for this apart from the fact that we were all voracious readers. We moved between states, sometimes between continents, every couple years - books were a portable, affordable experience that could be tucked away into a suitcase. Also, they were easily replaceable if forgotten in a public washroom or restaurant (in my case, this was a common occurrence). The gift of a book before a long trip was a sure source of comfort that could transport me away from hectic crowds, long flights, and tedious security checkpoints.

Another reason my parents gifted us books was so that through the sharing of stories, we could bond as a family. The enthusiastic dinner conversations (and sometimes debates) that books inspired were legendary. We itched to retell the intricacies of a fantastical plot or to convince a sibling that our favorite character truly would have bested theirs in a fight (only once did this lead to an actual physical fight, causing literary discussion to be cancelled that evening).

Reading, often considered a solitary pastime, was a group experience in my family. Apart from specific books gifted to each of us (depending on our current ages and interests), there was always one “master” book under the Christmas tree that was addressed to the general “family”. This book - selected by my father - was our read-aloud for the month. These were often Newberry award winners and historical fiction - something that he thought wouldn’t simply entertain us, but teach us new words, new facts, and new perspectives. For example, I first learned about the trials Jewish people faced in Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. Later, the connection between sailing, navigation, and mathematics in Jean Latham’s Carry On, Mr Bowditch. I experienced the California Gold Rush by listening to By the Great Horn Spoon! By Sid Fleischman. Reading books aloud taught us patience and the joy of cozying up with your siblings and pets in anticipation for the momentous “chapter one”. Fiction was part of our education.

The re-gifting of books was an easy way for my siblings and I to show our love for each other. If I enjoyed a book about Norse Legends, then my brother simply had to read it. If he also liked it, then we could expect to be playing make-believe that we were Thor and Loki battling it out in Asgard for the rest of the winter. Indeed, books could be shared physically and emotionally.

Another way of looking at the gifting of books during the holidays is that it is a celebration of literacy and culture. Being a biracial child, books from my mother’s Caribbean home taught me the traditions and legends of her people. I am forever grateful to her for re-gifting books from her childhood so that I could enjoy them as well.

I plan to give all my friends and family books this Christmas, and someday continue the tradition with my own children. Looking back on my childhood, I see how books shaped my early life, encompassing the happiest moments. Books were a refuge when things got a bit too scary, a friend when I needed it and a teacher when I was open to learn. Indeed, gifting books brings people together and ignites imaginations.

I challenge you to re-gift one of your favorite stories this season, you wont regret sharing the experience.

Written by Paola Merrill, Bookseller @ Village Books in Fairhaven 

Chuckanut Reader 40th anniversary magazine by Village Books