Books for Christmas
November 26, 2003

The holiday season has begun. Here in Canada some of us have started our Christmas shopping, walking the malls in the afternoons and evenings, listening to Christmas carols and other holiday songs in the background and wondering about what we will buy the people on our list. My son and his family, who moved to Vermont, are beginning their first American Thanksgiving holiday, perhaps the most celebrated holiday in the United States. It's the beginning of the holiday season for all of us.

Many of us buy gifts that we would like ourselves. For those of us who love books, what better gift could there be than one of the new bestselling fiction titles, or perhaps a non-fiction book about our city or region?

Once upon a time, in a far-off job, I had a supervisor who told me that he could never understand anyone buying a hard cover book. 'No one reads a book more than once, so why spend that money and then keep it on a shelf?' Why, indeed? Why do some of us have thousands of books in our libraries, some of which we may not read again? Why do we store, dust and even move these books when we relocate to new jobs thousands of miles away?

My books are my history. While I've bought most of the books I own, many of the very special books in my library have been gifts from friends and family. I've bought some of them in special bookshops locally and in other countries.

I've inherited a few special books from my family. Many years ago I ventured into the attic of the small house on our farm, just before the house was to be demolished to make room for a new one. I found two books that had belonged to my uncle F/O Bernhard Martin, a RCAF bomber pilot who did not return from World War II. One was 'Bartlett's Familiar Quotations', and the other a small, leather bound copy of 'The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam', inscribed in a fine, British hand 'To Bern, Love Mary.' These books are part of my library now, but I still wonder about Mary, who in 1944 probably lived close to an airbase in northern England and loved a young Canadian from southern Saskatchewan, a Canadian who never finished high school but carried a large hard- cover book of literary and other quotations in his kit as he moved from Canada to Britain, and from base to base.

My books are my friends. I've reread many of them, and found that a book I read when I was 25 was not the book I read at 50. Such books help me to understand where I've been and who I've been, and whom I might still become. At various stages in my life I've often read every book that a particular author has written. I won't revisit some books, but will browse or reread many others.

I've diverged from my message about Christmas books: but not entirely. This is the season to spend time in bookstores, finding those special books for special people. We also find books that we might like to receive, and perhaps we'll buy them for ourselves, or drop broad hints about them to loved ones. Maybe some of the books we buy will be as special to us and to the people around us as 'Bartlett's Familiar Quotations' was to my uncle. Maybe they will be passed to other generations: or perhaps they'll be taken on holidays and read leisurely, then passed on to others or sold at garage sales.

I'm off to one of my favourite bookstores tonight to enjoy Christmas cheer and music of the season; I'm sure I'll buy some books, some for others, perhaps one or two for me. I'll meet some friends, talk about books, and enjoy the food.

On Christmas Day I'll open my gifts, and hope that I'll get at least one or two books. Later that afternoon I'll find a quiet corner and read. I'll do the same on Boxing Day (Dec. 26, if you're reading this in the USA).

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