What do Sean Connery, Oprah Winfrey, Yao Ming, and Baby Yoda have in common? Aside from their obvious celebrity, they—along with other sports icons, TV and cinema personalities (whether real or fictional), and political figures—have all featured sometime or another on a series of “READ” posters. Sponsored by the American Library Association, “READ” posters are popular decorations for public libraries across the nation.
Years ago, I found it interesting to visit the local library and wonder who or what would be on the next READ poster. The idea was to foster literacy awareness, but it also highlights a thought-provoking concern.
Using familiar public figures, the READ campaign hoped to associate books with role models. That is fine, so far as it goes, but some personalities—like some books—are more admirable than others. There is nothing wrong with role models who really do encourage and inspire, but so much in the public eye today is reflective of pop-culture entertainment and ambiguous morality. Hollywood and politics don't seem like great sources for inspiring examples to follow today.
In the same way, books can be helpful, insightful, even indispensable—and they even make great gifts. People of all ages can benefit from literature— but especially in the formative years, when exposure to knowledge can shape a person’s skills and even their very future. However, they can also contain wrong ideas, and not all books contain or reflect ideas of virtue or lasting good.
Once written, books are vessels that preserve whatever was put into them—whatever their potential for good or evil. So, discretion is key. How do we decide what books are appropriate gifts to inspire an aspiring mind when the literary world is riddled with so much objectionable or even demonic and ungodly content? Here are some ideas to consider when considering a book as a gift:
First, think positive! As the Apostle Paul once wrote: meditate on useful things of “good report” (Philippians 4:8). Have you ever learned something from a book that made you stop and think, “now that was interesting—I never would have thought of that myself”? If knowledge from a book has helped or inspired you, there is a good chance it will do the same for someone else. You never know what seed you might plant by passing along a family favorite, or a “keeper” that once helped you see the world a different way or enhanced your skills. However, don't feel that one must always be constricted to sunshine and roses—some of the greatest stories and inspiration can come from accounts, fictional as well as nonfictional, that deal with human suffering and from timeless themes of loss or adversity that resonate with the human experience. Just know the reader, and remember that a gift is best when it lifts someone up; reading about hardship and travail may be best left to the individual's choice of time and preference.
Speaking of preference, find a book you can be reasonably sure the person will like! While it is good to step outside one's comfort zone and learn new or even uncomfortable things, a book, as much as any other gift, should reflect thoughtfulness towards the individual. A person cannot always choose what experiences they will have, good or bad, which is all the more reason they should be let to choose their own time and place for testing their personal preferences or exposing themselves to dark or depressing themes, however cathartic.
Next, look to the past! As the Bible admonishes, “Get wisdom… get understanding!” (Proverbs 4:5). There are a lot of “classics” still in print today that preserve the culture and variety of many nations and peoples. Also, memoirs and autobiographies, especially of “great lives,” make excellent sources for inspiration. Reading about how world leaders and role models of antiquity struggled, overcame challenges, or even dealt with failure and disappointment can be invaluable practical knowledge to a young person.
Finally—last, but not least—consider a Bible (or a Bible study tool for someone already a student of the word of God). The very word bible comes from the Greek biblios, which quite simply means… book! Some of the very first page-and-cover books were collections of Hebrew scripture combined with the writings of the apostles—easier to carry, conceal, and preserve than a cumbersome scroll. It is quite fitting that the wisdom contained within those pages is the most important knowledge a young person—or anyone for that matter—could ever absorb.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). And, as the Apostle Peter wrote, “add knowledge” as one of the signs of fruitful growth and wisdom, along with virtue and self-control (also valuable tools in deciding what to read!).
These are, of course, helpful hints and not demanding dogmas! But however you choose, if you choose, give a gift that really does keep on giving.
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