Have you started Christmas shopping yet? Are you still trying to decide what in the world to give to various friends and family members? Can I make a suggestion? Give books.
My guess (call me skeptical) is that most of you who know me are reading this with a yawn and are about move on to another blog. Hold on! Give me a chance to build a brief case for the recommendation. Try to forget for a moment all the other things I’ve written about books and reading. Try not to think that I’m simply trying to squeeze you into my mold. Maybe, just maybe, giving a book away could really be a great idea.
Here are a few brief reasons why I’d recommend giving a book.
1. Consider the alternatives.
What other gifts might you give? Fruit cake? A tin of popcorn? A DVD? An i-Tunes gift card? I’m sure any of these would be appreciated (well, maybe not the fruit cake!). But, none of these are particularly compelling gift ideas. They are either made for consumption – which may be tasty, but is not likely to add anything truly significant to someone’s life – or entertainment – fun maybe, but not life changing. Most of us are too fat and overly entertained anyway. We probably don’t need more food or more DVDs.
2. Books delight the heart.
A good book can be to us what the wardrobe was to the Pevensie children in Lewis’s Narnian chronicles. The doorway to a world of wonder and magic! I’ll never forget the first books which really delighted me. The Book of Giant Stories – a fun, well-illustrated collection of tales about giants. (I recently found a used copy and bought it for Stephen. It’s just as good now as it was when I was his age!) Then there is the first book I can actually remember reading for myself. I was (I think) in the 2nd grade. I pulled from the shelf of the library in my 2nd grade classroom The Adventures of Danny Meadow Mouse by Burgess W. Thornton – or was it ThorntonW. Burgess?! I remember the absolute thrill of Danny running for his life from a fox - through hollow logs covered with snow. I think that’s when I fell in love with reading. Other books followed. The Hardy Boys. Tarzan of the Apes. The Sacketts. Then more serious books. Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The plays of Henrik Ibsen. The realist tragedies of Thomas Hardy. Shakespeare’s comedies. The poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. And perhaps my very favorite novel of all time, C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra (a science-fiction version of Milton’s Paradise Lost). Great delight!
3. Books shape the mind.
Books also shape the mind. This can be true of both fiction and non-fiction books. And both kinds of books can shape the mind in different ways (for good or evil). Books can shape how we think. And books can shape what we think. I probably owe any writing skills I have to my Mom’s requirement that I write four book reports in 4th grade. I don’t remember the books now. But I do remember how difficult it was at first – but that it got easier. That discipline of reading and writing was one (of many, no doubt) important foundation stones in the formation of how I think. When I was fourteen my Dad imposed a different requirement: read one chapter from Proverbs every day. That was the rule until I left home at nineteen. I must have read Proverbs 60 or 70 times during those formative years. I’m still feeling the impact now, almost twenty years later. The book of Proverbs helped shape what I think about many things.
Other books have shaped my thinking in other ways. The way I view people, the world, money, work, marriage, the church, etc. There’s no need to share the titles at this point. Any one who has spent much time reading knows the mind-shaping power of books.
4. Books change the life.
Books also have the potential, under God’s blessing and grace, to change lives – eternally. Earlier this year I heard William McKenzie, the founder and managing director of Christian Focus Publications, give a lecture called Words for the World: Rejoicing in God's Global Use of Christian Literature . (You can download the audio from this link). McKenzie shared story after story of how God has used Christian literature in life-changing ways. For example, McKenzie told of George Whitefield, the great eighteenth century evangelist, who was converted after reading Henry Scougal’s little book The Life of God in the Soul of Man; and Jonathan Edwards who published A Call to United Extraordinary Prayer - a book which yielded extraordinary results.
Another often told story, about the impact of Richard Sibbes’ book A Bruised Reed, emphasizes the ripple effect of literature.
A book by Richard Sibbes, one of the choicest of the Puritan writers, was read by Richard Baxter, who was greatly blessed by it. Baxter then wrote his Call to the Unconverted which deeply influenced Philip Doddridge, who in turn wrote The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul. This brought the young William Wilberforce, subsequent English statesman and foe of slavery, to serious thoughts of eternity. Wilberforce wrote his Practical Book of Christianity which fired the soul of Leigh Richmond. Richmond, in turn, wrote The Dairyman's Daughter, a book that brought thousands to the Lord, helping Thomas Chalmers the great preacher, among others. (Ernest Reisinger, "Every Christian a Publisher," Free Grace Broadcaster, Issue 51, Winter, 1995, p. 18, quoted by John Piper in A Godward Life, Multnomah, 1997, pp. 58-59).
These are not just stories from history. There are personal stories as well. One of my best friends was saved after reading Arthur Pink’s The Sovereignty of God. I’ve seen many people take dramatic leaps forward in their spirituality after reading John Piper’s Desiring God.
5. Books last.
At least well made ones do. But even a paperback that falls apart after a few years will last longer than a fruit cake.
Just think of the potential the gift of a book could have. Do you have unsaved family members? Perhaps the gift of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity could be used of the Lord to lead them to faith in Christ. Is there a child (niece, nephew, son, daughter?) in your life who is entranced with TV and video games? Who knows what the gift of a very good book might add to their electronics-dominated world? (Try Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia or Norton Juster’s The Phantom Toll-booth.) Do you have Christian friends who are struggling in their walk with Christ, blown and tossed by every wind of teaching? Why not give them a classic book on Christian spirituality (Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress) or introduce them to an intellectually challenging contemporary theologian (J. I. Packer’s Knowing God or Piper’s The Pleasures of God)? Do you see a marriage that’s suffering? Try giving them Gary Thomas’s thought provoking Sacred Marriage. Just want to bless a friend? Pick one of your favorite books and give it away.
It may be the most important gift your friend or family member receives this year (or ever). Give a book. And pray for God to work.