What do Sean Connery, Oprah Winfrey, and Yao Ming have in common? Aside from their obvious celebrity, they—along with other sports, television 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 which READ “poster-child” would be on the wall next. The idea was to foster literacy awareness, but to me 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 a role model that really does encourage and inspire, but so much in the public eye today is cheap, degraded, and reflective of pop-culture entertainment and ambiguous morality. Few indeed seriously consider Hollywood or politics fruitful ground for inspiring examples to follow today.
In the same way, books can be helpful tools, insightful—some would say indispensable—and they even make great gifts. People young and old can gain a lot from literature—especially in the formative years, when exposure to knowledge can shape a person’s skills, and 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 many objectionable, even demonic topics (several recent undead-obsessed titles come to mind)? Here are some useful (and biblical) points 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.
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 and conceal 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!).
However you choose, give a gift that really does keep on giving, and will never truly lose its value.
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