Last week, I talked with booksellers about why books make the best holiday gifts. This week we hear from some terrific local writers about the most memorable, meaningful bookish gifts they’ve received. The range of answers — from beloved children’s books to a racy antique sex guide — proves, as if proof were needed, that there really is no end to the variety books bring to all our lives.
About five years ago, my mom gave me a first edition of “Ozma of Oz” one Christmas, which thrilled me because I am still a huge aficionado of all the Oz books! And with the edition, which had a ruby-red cover, she gave me my grandma’s ruby ring. — Jenna Blum, author of “Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons From a Wise Old Dog”
“The Poky Little Puppy,” from my Mom, after I had just learned to read. Age 3 or 4! — Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song”
When I was seven years old, my father gave me a copy of Gwendolyn Brooks’s little illustrated children’s book, “Aloneness,” inscribed to me by the poet, who had come to speak at the college where he taught. I was less excited by the fact that a real live author had signed a book for me than by how she was able to give voice to something I knew to be true but didn’t yet have the words for — that loneliness is a terrible state but aloneness is a delicious one, where “pulse and nature keep you company.” That book has remained a cherished friend. — Elizabeth Graver, author of “The End of the Point”
Without question, the best bookish gift I ever received is “All About Love,” by the iconic bell hooks who recently passed away. It arrived when I was turning away from love, and bell turned me back with clarity and conviction on how to love and be loved. — Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to Be an Antiracist”
When I was writing my novel “Charity Girl,” about the U.S. government’s internment of young women during World War I to prevent the spread of venereal disease among soldiers, my friend the writer Phil Gambone, to keep my spirits up, gave me a yellowed book from 1907, published by the Chicago Society of Social Hygiene, called “The General Need for Education in Matters of Sex.” The book transported me to the mood and language of that era (one chapter was titled “Boys Acquire Knowledge of Sexual Matters at an Early Age, but Seldom at Home”), and I ended up using a quote from it as my novel’s epigraph. Even better, the book proved useful as a prop on my coffee table, to break the ice with guys with whom I hoped to further my own education. — Michael Lowenthal, author of “Sex With Strangers”
One of my most cherished gift books is a first edition of Alice Walker’s classic, “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose.” My mother gave me this copy with the lavender-toned cover photograph of the author when I was in college. Walker’s words were formative to my early understanding of what it meant to be a Black American woman with a feminist (“womanist” in Walker’s rendering) and ecologically conscious outlook. When I finally got the chance to meet Alice Walker decades later, I brought my well-loved, well-thumbed copy of this book and worked up the nerve to ask her to sign it. — Tiya Miles, author of “All That She Carried”
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at email@example.com.