Gimbling in the Wabe – The Gift of Reading

I tend to be one of those people who obsesses over gift giving.  I don’t get a chance to do it all that  often – I’m actually pretty frugal in that regard, sometimes by choice, now by necessity.  And I don’t really like getting gifts myself; I’ve rarely liked being the center of attention which tends to come hand in hand with receiving a gift.  But I love, love, LOVE to give gifts when the time is right – and there’s no better time than Christmas to give gifts to loved ones.

When I was little, our gifts were pretty practical.  I honestly don’t remember most of them (other than the obligatory socks and underwear in our Christmas stockings, a tradition I’ve passed to my own children, much to their chagrin).  But I do remember that every Christmas I could be assured of at least one book under the tree, and not just a slim paperback.  It would be some big, glossy picture book when I was young, or a more substantial, thoughtful (and often beautiful) book when I got older.  Some of those books I still have with me today; some exist only in memories, but I nevertheless still hold them dear.

And, I’ll admit, once I was on my own I would use gift giving as an excuse to spend hours in my local bookstore, perusing the shelves, paging through children’s books, scanning titles and searching for something new that would fit the personalities and interests of the people on my list.  Quite often I would make a separate list during these excursions – a list of books that I myself found intriguing, that I could use when asked, “Well, what do you want for Christmas?”, and come back to later if I didn’t receive them.

But times have changed, and circumstances as well.  My Christmas list has gotten much smaller.  The nieces and nephews and cousins in the extended family have grown up and had kids of their own, too many for the expectation of gifts from relatives they don’t even know.  My parents have aged to the point where their interests are very narrow and immediate.  My sisters and I decided long ago to stop sending gifts between families, to cut down on the stress and expense of the season that was taking its toll on all of us.  My husband has migrated to the internet in the few moments he decides to sit still; I haven’t seen him sit down and read a “real” book in years, not even the occasional political humor works that he used to enjoy.

And my kids…. time has caught up to them, as well.  My son doesn’t really like to read, he says.  He claims that he reads too slowly and doesn’t have the patience for it.  Oh, he does read when his imagination is piqued – he’s loved the George R. R. Martin “Song of Ice and Fire” series, wasn’t daunted by Tad Williams’ “Otherland” series, and waits just as anxiously as I do for the next installment in James S. A. Corey’s “The Expanse” series – he can read and retain and enjoy.  But he spends his free time in other, more “modern” ways.  So no books for him at Christmas time.  And my daughter – oh, my daughter.  My star reader in 5th grade with a trophy for having read more books than any other student in the entire school.  The girl who would pour over stories and picture books, who would lug her copy of the most recent Harry Potter novel everywhere… still so smart and talented, but around middle school her brain got off at the wrong stop, taking with it her ability to focus on written words on the page.  Reading now is a struggle for her, and books a reminder of how she wishes she could be.  Those books she does make it through are very special indeed, and I’ve since learned to let her be the one to decide on them, no matter how strongly I want to share my love of reading with her.

But just when I thought giving the gift of reading was diminishing for me, I was given an amazing opportunity – to write reviews here, at LitStack.  To occasionally receive books with the expectation of sharing them through my thoughts, through my observations and recommendations.  To be given permission to explore so many wonderful books – any book that I desired (well, as long as the library had a copy!) –  and to spend hours reading, and writing about that experience. To have the freedom to go wherever my curiosity and interest led me.

What a heady thing to have been gifted!  I mean, how incredibly, wonderfully lucky am I to be given this opportunity? What a marvelous, fun, fulfilling endeavor!  And on top of that, to think that a book may sell a few extra copies and a writer may get a wee bit more support, because of what I have to say about their work. That is such a powerful notion. And I have been exposed to so many wonderful writers of whom I may not have noticed on my own – how sweet is that?  I have the potential to give the gift of reading every day!

So I want to pause for just a moment, in this time of giving, to be fully appreciative of the opportunity that I have been given. Not just the time and permission to read, but all that has grown from that – meeting new friends, gaining the acquaintance of authors I admire, working with the best editor-in-chief imaginable, being able to glimpse the writing process and, when I am very, very lucky, being able to aid in that process, to be exposed to so many different styles and mediums of writing that I was ignorant of before, when I had to parcel out my literary hours in drips and drabs. And to be able to share my thoughts and my impressions, my journey, with all of you. I truly am blessed, and I hope to never lose sight of that good fortune.

So Happy Holidays, everyone!  I hope the rest of your holiday season is indeed as merry and bright as mine is turning out to be.  I hope that you have a book waiting for you under the Christmas tree, or tucked in a stocking, even if you have to gift it to yourself!  And thank you, one and all, for listening, for reading, for being there, wherever you may be.

~Sharon Browning

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