Some of my fondest Christmas memories involve getting (and, later, giving) a new crop of books as gifts every year. Unique among my interests, books have bridged the gap from childhood to adulthood — from the era of plastic battlesets and bolt-spitting robots to that of of daily planners, jumper cables, and bottles of Irish Cream. Books have always been there.
In fact, they tend to be the only thing that still recaptures a bit of that childhood glow of excitement of getting a gift, for me at least. The car wax, wide-toed socks, and jumbo pack of batteries are all very nice and thank you — they just don’t spark the imagination. And I think, ultimately, when you’re a kid that’s what all the excitement is about — not the getting per se, but the finding out. As a kid Christmas, for those of us privileged Westerners that celebrate the holiday in all its modern commercial glory, is an undiscovered country. In a society increasingly dominated by instant gratification, it may be one of the few delayed pleasures left to todays’ children.
And books always hold that promise of exploration — even when firmly in our hands they are unknown to us, not yielding up their secrets until we’ve read them. And reading, too, is a form of play, of the kind of stimulation we partake in less and less as responsibility waxes and innocence wanes. I’m seldom surprised by the titles of the books I’m given as gifts — after all I’m usually the one that suggested them in the first place — but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because a book is a wrapped gift in-and-of-itself, and needs no bow, ribbon, or paper to make it so.