The Gift of Reading

As we celebrate another holiday season, gift-giving tops our to-do lists. As writers—and this may be preaching to the choir—we have a perspective on that both personal and universal.

Most of us have books on our wish lists. We want books, and constant reading anchors our growth as writers. But asking for books also helps keep afloat our industry, the industry of the written word. When our friends and families buy us those books, book people—writers, publishers, editors, agents, readers, booksellers, and librarians—benefit across the larger landscape.

We need to extend the gift of reading beyond our personal wants. Give books to those you love. Tailor those books to the individual.

Start with the little ones in your life. Give your 8-month old niece a brightly colored read-along book. She’ll love it and slobber all over it. Literally. Her parents will love it and read it to her. A family is made stronger and a future reader is born. Don’t wait for Pre-K to start; teach them to love books before they have ever even heard of school.

Do this for the little ones you know and don’t know. In your donations to holiday toy drives, slip a few books in among the toys. Many bookstores will ask if you want to donate to such.

If your 13-year old nephew is a gamer only interested in playing World of Warcraft all night long, get him a related graphic novel. There are tons of them. There are also lots of spinoff novels, primarily in the YA category. You can give an e-reader and load a few graphic novels on it. Just don’t call them comic books.

Does your middle-schooler show an interest in audio-visual production? Services like Booktrack allow her to create soundtracks to original written works or to public domain works.

Don’t judge. Don’t presume. If your cousin asks for a copy of Fifty Shades of Twilight, give it to her. Don’t give her War and Peace instead because you think that will be better for her. It’ll end up an unread and expensive doorstop.

Don’t preach. Don’t buy your brother-in-law a political diatribe that aligns with your own views because you think he needs it. On the other hand, if he’s drifting into the hate and bile of extremism that pollutes the Internet, give something to read that eases him back into the land of the living. Or just gets him away from the hate for a few days. The written word can save.

Consider physical limits and needs. Does Grandma no longer read because of failing eyesight? Buy large-print editions of bestsellers. Or an e-reader, and show her how to adjust font size to one large enough for her, with a gift card to download whatever books she wants. But what if she is blind? Get her a nice pair of earbuds and a subscription to an audiobook publisher. Maybe she has always wanted to read that book you wrote but physically couldn’t. Give her the audiobook. While you’re at it, send a gift of your audiobook to an assisted living home nearby.

Need a gift for Uncle Joe, who’s stuck in mind-numbing traffic every day? That audiobook subscription will dissipate the frustrations of commuting.

Maybe Aunt Susie loves short nonfiction and doesn’t care for novels. The e-reader subscription will allow her to download a gazillion periodicals and newspapers.

Know someone who speaks little or no English, and suffers alone in a land of English-speakers? Give her an online subscription in Portuguese or Thai or Croatian. They’re out there. Similarly, if your favorite cousin loves travel to foreign shores, get him online subscriptions to dual-language magazines. Great way to pick up a little of the language before he boards that plane.

You get the idea. This is not just about gifts. It’s about creating and nurturing readers, about acquainting or reacquainting and engaging nonreaders with the written word. It’s about building a reading culture and ensuring that future generations will possess empathy, intelligence, and reason.

A gift of reading is a gift to civilization.

Happy holidays to all my reading and writing friends! Now get out there and build the reading culture we all want and deserve.

(Originally published in December, 2018, by Florida Writers Association)

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