The greatest gift is a passion for reading.
There’s nothing as cozy as a piece of candy and a book.
Betty MacDonald, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic
The buzzword in college applications today is “passion”. Every applicant is supposed to have one, and woe to the poor teenager who’s just trying to get through adolescence, not to mention chemistry and the Common App. Fortunately, when I was in high school, no one asked me if I had a “passion”. But if I’d had to answer that awful question, I would have said I was passionate about reading. I always have been, ever since I deciphered the words to Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. (My parents, convinced I had memorized the book, kept trying to trick me by skipping pages, but I was on to them.)
From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.
Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
I am very grateful that my parents and grandparents read to me, bought me books, took me to the library, and were avid readers themselves. I can still hear Nana’s musical voice reading A.A. Milne and e.e. cummings to me. And I remember the cozy feeling of Granny’s lap as she read The Funny Thing to my cousins and me. (“And very good they are, jum-jills” — does anyone remember that?) Her house was crammed with books — I discovered everything from The Catcher in the Rye to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to Georgette Heyer’s romances on her shelves. Dad read us The Yearling and The Wind in the Willows, and often gave in when I begged for one more chapter. I recall my mother’s delight when she found the Betsy-Tacy books (favorites from her childhood) on a library shelf.
There are countless organizations devoted to literacy and the joy of reading. Please consider giving your time, your money, and/or your books to one of them. Two of my local favorites are Open Books and Bernie’s Book Bank. Open Books, a nonprofit that promotes literacy through school and community programs, helps fund its operations through two absolutely beautiful used bookstores in Chicago. Bernie’s Book Bank facilitates the collection, processing and redistribution of new and gently used children’s books to increase book ownership among at-risk children throughout the Chicago area. Both of these organizations would love your “pre-read” books. Wherever you live, there’s a literacy group that would appreciate your gift.
During this holiday season, give yourself a present — treat yourself to some time with a good book. Do as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle suggests and eat some candy, too. You can worry about calories in January.
When Molly O’Toole was looking at the colored pictures in Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s big dictionary and just happened to be eating a candy cane at the same time and drooled candy cane juice on the colored pictures of gems and then forgot and shut the book so the pages all stuck together, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle didn’t say, “You must never look at books when you are eating.” She said, “Let’s see, I think we can steam those pages apart, and then we can wipe the stickiness off with a little soap and water, like this-now see, it’s just as good as new. There’s nothing as cozy as a piece of candy and a book.”