Susanna here. (And yes, dear copy editors, I know the rules of grammar say the title should read: “Christmases”, but if Charles Dickens could slide around the rules, I’ll happily slide alongside him).
I can’t recall a Christmas when I didn’t get a book.
There was always a special feeling of anticipation when I picked up a flat, rectangular gift and felt the telltale indentations along bottom, top, and one long side. In childhood, it meant I’d be spending long, happy hours wrapped in my blankets in bed, with no interruptions save mealtimes, and even then, if it were a really exceptional story, my parents would give me a pass on the meals and just let me come down and grab food from the fridge when I wanted to.
It’s an inherited thing. I remember once asking my mother what her favourite gifts were when she was a little girl, and she replied without needing to ponder. “A pair of pajamas,” she said, “and a book.”
So I think, in my case, it’s genetic.
I still have every book I ever found under the Christmas tree. Here are a few of them.
Mary Stewart’s Madam, Will You Talk came as part of a three-book set of reprints that my sister ordered from her book club to replace my scruffier-looking copies (which I never did get rid of, since I hate disposing of books I love, so I’ve ended up with multiple copies of my Mary Stewarts—never a bad thing).
The entire ten volumes of Journeys Through Bookland came when I was twelve, I think—wrapped in one long and enticing gift. I still remember my fingers tracing book spine after book spine through the wrapping paper, to my growing excitement. These books had belonged to my aunt when she was a girl, and I had found them in the bookcase of my grandparents and loved them, so my aunt decided she would let me have them for a Christmas gift. They were—and still are—the most beautiful things. A collection of stories and poems and plays, bound in lovely rich leather with an embossed ship on the cover to stand as a symbol of all of the voyages we take when reading.
The Stand—Stephen King’s epic masterpiece—came from my husband, who then didn’t see very much of me for the next three days because I was lost in the story and only emerged when I needed more coffee, so it was a good thing my husband had turkey and leftovers to keep from starving.
Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man came from my parents the Christmas I moved back home with them, after years spent on my own. I’d just finished writing my very first novel, had left a successful job as a museum curator, and was starting work as a waitress to give me the time to write while I tried finding a publisher. This book—the autobiography of one of my mother’s favourite writers—was one of the many ways my parents showed me their support, a tangible way of letting me know they valued my goals and my dreams.
And Kurt Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus was my sister’s gift to me that same year—the then-newest book by one of my favourite authors, with an inscription I treasured then, and treasure even more now: “Next year,” my sister wrote, “you can give me an autographed copy of your own book.”
It would be another few years before I’d be able to do that, but her belief in me was—and continues to be—a vital force behind my writing, and although I lost her to lymphoma years ago, these little messages she left me in the books she gave at Christmas are like hugs of warm encouragement and love.
I could go on and on and on just listing all the books I’ve found under my Christmas trees, but I’d much rather hear what books you’ve found—whether under a Christmas tree or as gifts at another time of year—and what they mean to you…