COLUMN: Holiday reflections on a favorite Christmas gift

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By DICK HEDRICK, By the Side of the Road

The memory of my mother’s standard response when asked what she wanted for Christmas each year – “kind words” – has given me pause this holiday season. Being somewhat more materialistic, my response to the same question has always been “a gift certificate from a bookstore would be nice.” I try to be helpful.

From my standpoint, a trip to Barnes and Noble, or Borders, or Books-a-Million ranks right up there with a family vacation, an evening at a good restaurant with my wife, playing cards with our granddaughter, a walk on an ocean beach, or a summer afternoon at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.  

Moving from “New Releases” to “Best Sellers” to the “Children’s Section” (there’s a granddaughter to consider) to “History” to “Literature” to “Biography” to “Bargain Books” (where you get the best bang for your buck) is great therapy. Time spent in a bookstore can be likened to the avid fisherman’s anticipation of a huge catch, or the deer hunter’s solitary commune with nature in the tranquil hours of early dawn.

While the electronic revolution marches onward, and an ever-growing number of e-reader adherents interact with their iPads and Kindles, I’m quite content to continue browsing the shelves and tables of neatly stacked hardcover books and paperbacks. Some of the most interesting facets of life have been uncovered in such an edifying environment. I would frequent the library more often, but for some reason, those in charge usually frown on underlining, highlighting and notes scribbled in the book margins. Besides, it invariably takes me more than two weeks to complete a good novel.   

Although somewhat old-fashioned, I’m enough of a pragmatist to recognize that if an iPad encourages more people, especially kids, to become engaged in meaningful reading and learning, then who can fault it? If it works, go with it. Meanwhile, my heart remains with the paper and ink variety, which has me once again waxing poetically.


I doubt that I shall ever look
At a sight more lovely than a book.
A book whose worn pages cry
For a caring and discerning eye.

A book that stands on shelf
or table
Filled with tales and ancient fables.

Upon whose margin, notes are found
The reader’s views ‘oft written down.

Summer, winter, fall or spring
Books bid thoughts to take their wing.

A call to war, a prayer for peace
From modern times to ancient Greece.

Books are written for better or worse
Tis readers who make them a blessing or curse.

My apologies to the late Sergeant Joyce Kilmer, whose poetic style I borrowed from “Trees.” However, since imitation may well be the sincerest form of flattery, I see it as a means of honoring him posthumously. I hope all of you have a wonderful Christmas. Be kind to one another and may a good book – or an e-reader – be close at hand this yuletide.