Years ago, my sister-in-law asked each of us in the family to write a short piece describing our favourite Christmas memory for her mother.
This year, we received an unusual gift: a copy of all the submissions (we had only ever seen our own). What a special gift it’s been to read the stories of Christmases past — and some of them were very long ago indeed — while others were written by people who have since passed on.
My entry described a book I received and loved. Looking at the book today, I see how much I read it, its pages no longer crisp and fine, but delicate, faintly yellowed, and soft.
“When I was growing up, a Christmas tradition was getting a record with stories and songs. Each year, we would get one and then we could listen to it on this huge record player (it was actually quite small). The Christmas I was seven I remember quite clearly because that year I got a real book. A real book was one that had a hard cover, lots of words and many pages. I felt quite grown up since all my other books had been picture books.
“I still have my book, a collection of fairy tales of Andersen and Grimm. Each story had an illustration, and looking at it now, it seems quite old fashioned in its language and style. But I loved it, and I would read it over and over. I didn't understand many of the larger words, but each time I read it, I would somehow know more than the last time I had read my book.
The truth is, books are not just paper and pictures bound with a hard cover, but a portal into another time and place.
“I thought I had lost my book, after a period of time when I was ‘grown up.’ I found it again one day, when I was in university, while cleaning up our basement. As I read it that morning, I remember the feeling of that first Christmas, when I first turned the pages of my first real book and understood how the words told the story. I remembered then, and have never forgotten since, the magical world reading brings to me where I am and however old I may be.”
This year, like many other holidays, a lovely pile of books sits waiting for me. I frequently stick random bits of paper to mark special places so I can return to sections to reread.
In thinking again about my little submission, I realized I have never stopped reading or loving books. The truth is, books are not just paper and pictures bound with a hard cover, but a portal into another time and place.
I met a former teacher of mine over the holidays. “Are you still a bookworm?” she asked. “I remember you always reading when I saw you in school.”
Yes, I am, I told her. Even today, I can get lost in the pages of a book, as I did then, wandering through worlds, cultures and ideas, while meeting people I do not know.
It’s true what Victor Hugo said: “To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” Of all the things I have, being able to read and write are the most treasured.
The beauty of our electronic age is that I can literally carry a library with me on my phone or tablet. Perhaps the bits and bytes which form the text don't have quite the same cachet as a bound paper book, but I am never without something to read when I am on the road, on a plane, or stuck in a waiting room.
It’s not just fiction that pulls me in. A well-written news feature, story or even a finely crafted essay can send me down a path towards new ways of seeing, thinking and even writing about issues.
More than anything, I am reminded of Doctor Who’s advice: “We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”
Thank you, dear readers, for all your stories, too.
Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living in St. John’s. Email firstname.lastname@example.org