Holiday roundup: Wrapped up in books

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL
  • Star Tribune
  • November 27, 2011 - 8:55 AM

One Christmas when I was in my early 20s, a friend gave me a book: "The Prosperity Handbook: A Guide to Personal and Financial Success."

It was such a bizarre present -- at least, it was bizarre to me at that age, at that time -- that I just stared. "Huh?" I think was my graceless response.

My friend looked at me sternly. Apparently she had told me all about the book a few weeks before, at great length. She had misinterpreted my response -- blank smile, well-timed nods -- as interest. Whoops.

It's hard to give the right book, isn't it? That novel you loved, that memoir you wept over, might make someone else roll their eyes. Or, if they're like me and extremely rude, it might make them blurt out, "Huh?"

But when we asked you for stories of your most memorable gift of a book -- for good or bad -- you had mostly good memories to share. Wonderful stories of Depression-era parents scrimping and saving, of thoughtful siblings, of books that opened your lives, set you on the path of reading, sent you trekking off to Sweden or canoeing with the Cree.

Sara Rottunda, St. Paul: My most memorable gift was "Little House in the Big Woods," by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It came from my Great-Aunt Isabel Knutson. I adored her, and to get a "big girl book" of my very own made me feel grown up. She gave me subsequent books in the series, for birthdays and Christmas, and I couldn't wait to get each one. I still have them all and will always treasure them.

Peg Heglund, Granite Falls, Minn.: When our son was 11, I went looking for a book that would entertain him. I found one about another 11-year-old boy -- Harry Potter. Rather than have him read it alone, we decided to read it together. From there we read the next four Harry Potter books and then expanded into the Hobbit and the Lord of the Ring series. I cherish those winter nights when we explored the magic that books can provide. The gift I gave to him came back to me, as those are memories I will have forever.

Jessica Keener, Boston: An old boyfriend of mine and I were in a rocky place in our relationship. We were always breaking up and making up. One holiday season he stopped by my apartment to drop off a gift -- a hardcover story collection of Grace Paley's "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute." Inside, his inscription read: "I am confused about you: you're a beauty and a bitch. I love you." Hmmm. I loved the book, but did I love that mixed-message inscription? Wasn't sure. I still have the book, but eventually he and I enormously changed and parted ways, at the last minute, for the last time. The title of that book and his inscription still echo inside me.

Brigitte Frase, Minneapolis: The Christmas I was 7, we had just moved from Munich to the village of Eichendorf on the Czech border where my grandparents lived. My father was getting ready to leave for the U.S. to find a job, learn English and figure out whether or not to bring his family there for good.

Christmas Eve the living room door was thrown open to reveal the lit tree and the presents arrayed beneath. I went straight to the book meant for me, "Die Marchen Der Bruder Grimm" ("Grimm's Tales"). It had beautiful, detailed watercolor illustrations. I dove right in, and when I finished it, I started over.

Eichendorf had no library and no bookstore. There were no books in the house except for missals. I'd had to make do with my school reader, full of treacly edifying little stories. Now at last I had a full-blooded book of my own. On subsequent birthdays and Christmases, I received the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, Ludwig Bechstein, the Arabian Nights, Heidi. By the time we left for the U.S. two years later, I had a little library of my own, which still has pride of place on my packed and sagging bookshelves. It was the Brothers Grimm who opened for me the magic portals of the imagination.

Roger Miller, Minneapolis: Last year, my grandfather gave me the book "Canoeing With the Cree" by Eric Sevareid. This book was about a 2,250-mile canoe trip starting in Minneapolis and ending at Hudson Bay. He gave it to me because he knew I was taking a similar canoe trip over the summer. Reading the day-to-day account of their trip inspired me to keep my own daily journal of my adventure to Hudson Bay. Like Sevareid's, my trip was one I will never forget.

Sharon Fortunak, Cottage Grove: I went to a small elementary school where we drew names and exchanged gifts for Christmas. When I was 8, the girl who drew my name gave me "Pictured Geography: El Salvador in Story and Pictures," by Lois Donaldson, pictures by Kurt Wiese.

The book is memorable because it was the first book I ever received for a gift. Later in life, I wondered where her parents had purchased it. As far as I knew, the nearest bookstore was 50 miles away. I still have the yellow hardcover book, in good condition.

P.S. When my kids were young, they woke up to a new book on their pillows on Christmas morning.

Rick Allen, Duluth: Most memorable book gift ever received? The New Directions edition of "A Child's Christmas in Wales" by Dylan Thomas, illustrated by Ellen Raskin, that I got in high school back in the early '70s from my oldest friend.

Laraine P. Tracy, Bloomington: I was a child of the Depression, when money for books was not in the family budget. I haunted our Bessemer, Mich., library, which was open only once a week. I could not wait for the day when I could own books and never have to return them. One Christmas morning, that day came. My mom surprised me with a copy of the poems of Edgar Allan Poe.

The book was small, with a hard cover in blue with black etchings of floating maidens with long hair. It held the most exciting poems a young romantic girl could ever imagine. I read that book over and over until I knew most of the poems by heart. I renamed my favorite doll Lenore. I shed tears over "Annabelle Lee."

I have shelf after shelf of books I have owned since, but that gift from all those years ago sits on a shelf in my memories still.

Jay D. Peterson, Minneapolis: I was an avid reader as a child, but I never really thought about the future of my reading life. It wasn't until I received a copy of Bill Holm's "Coming Home Crazy: An Alphabet of China Essays" for Christmas in 1997 that I truly fell in love with the act and the art of reading. I've been a book lover through and through ever since.

My favorite gift book recommendation is Eric Sevareid's "Canoeing With the Cree." I can't recall a more pleasurable reading experience than my first time through that book.

Cecil Wade, Foley, Minn: In 1941, 9 years old and one of many children in a short-of-income family, I received two used books for Christmas. One was "The Winston Simplified Dictionary," and the other "The Nuremberg Stove," by Louise de la Ramee. The short novel included many words I could not pronounce or understand, and my Dad told me, "That's what the dictionary is for." The books and his advice have never been forgotten.

William Souder, Stillwater: At Christmas in 1979, my friend Colin Covert -- now the film critic of the Star Tribune -- gave me Jim Harrison's "Legends of the Fall." It included this inscription: "To Bill, whom I knew before either of us was rich and famous." The title piece in that collection affected me as strongly as anything I had ever read, or have since. I had nothing in common with the characters, apart from the sense of what it means to be young and intensely alive.

I now own a whole shelf full of books by Harrison. In fact, only one is missing. The last time I saw my copy of "Legends of the Fall" it was in my son's college apartment. I hope he liked it as much as I did.

As for that business about becoming rich and famous, well, Colin and I are still working on it.

Nancy Isaacson, Bloomington: It was Christmas Eve morning, and as my mother rushed around getting ready, I got it in my head that I just had to have "The Shirley Temple Treasury." She told me that it was far too late to send a letter to Santa. I threw the biggest tantrum I could muster and ran to my bedroom to mope the rest of the day.

By evening, I had forgotten all about my deplorable behavior. When it was time to pass out the gifts I watched my little pile grow. The first gift was a beautiful doll along with a buggy and crib. Content and happy, I cuddled my new "baby" and hugged Mama.

That's when my brother noticed one more gift under the tree. It was wrapped in newspaper, and written in big bold letters was: "TO THE LITTLE SNOT." My mother said to give it to me. Inside was "The Shirley Temple Treasury." I was thrilled. As for the "little snot" thing, it didn't faze me a bit. Years later, I found out how she had my dad (at that time a cop in Robbinsdale) hit every store in town to see if any of them had this book.

Susan Kissman, New Buffalo, Mich.: I got a Bible from my grandma when I was 9. Not weird, right? Except she gave me the wrong middle name in the inscription. I also won a dictionary for being the top speller in sixth grade. They spelled my last name wrong on the front. I understood irony even then.

Ethna McKiernan, Minneapolis: I still have a hardback copy of "Black Beauty" inscribed "to Ethna on her 9th birthday, with love from her brother Kevin."

Sue Rohland, St. Paul.: The fall of 1965 my sister, my friends and I read Anne Frank's diary. We had learned about her in school and her tragic life and inspirational words stayed with me. I wanted to keep a book like Anne Frank did.

That Christmas, my sister and I gave each other small diaries with locks on them. I was thrilled with my little brown book and named it Margaret. I was in the seventh grade and I recorded my daily activities, which mainly covered the boredom of school and the freedom of playing outdoors. I hoped that I might be able to write like Anne Frank -- at least in expressing my hopes and fears and dreams.

I also thought I would write in my little book for one year and that would be the end of it. Instead, my first diary became a lifelong passion, of sorts. The following years I received diaries for Christmas and continued to fill the pages. Now over four decades and 45 diaries later, I continue to write in my books.

Sometimes pages are too painful to read, other times they bring fond memories and laughter. There are births and deaths, weddings and divorces, romances and lost love, work and adventures, joy and heartache. I never faced the struggle and challenge of Anne Frank, but I continue to be inspired by her words and her precious book.

Amanda Brooks, Minneapolis: Some eight years ago we received a book for our then-newborn daughter -- "A Name of My Own." We were thrilled to receive a book that was so special and marched us through every letter of her name. At that point, we had no idea that it was the work of a Minnesota based artist and author -- we were just excited to have received something so creative and personalized. We still love the book, and even though she is now 8, we continue to read it to Isabelle and her brothers. We have also added to our collection -- Zach is the proud owner of "A Pirate of My Own," and Josh owns "Who Loves Joshua." The kids adore reading the books -- it makes them feel special to have a book that features their name in print.

S.A. Konsor, Holdingford, Minn.: "A Christmas Treasury," edited by Jack Newcombe, remains my favorite because it contains the story "A Christmas Memory," by Truman Capote. After Thanksgiving I take it out once again to read about making fruitcakes and keeping friendships. The end of the story is sad and a reminder that we all move on in life to places that will forever change us.

Carol Lloyd, Anoka: We were a dirt-poor family on a dirt-poor dairy farm; no TV, no traveling. Books were a treasure to me, a serious girl by the name of Carol. How appropriate for my aunt to give me an old used book by the title of "The Birds' Christmas Carol," a sweet little book that brought me to tears.

Many years later, as a parent, I would read a Christmas book to my family as over the rivers and through the wood to Grandmother's house we would go. The year I chose "The Bird's Christmas Carol," we arrived a little late, red-eyed, noses plugged, after pulling off the road to compose ourselves.

Bob Emerson, Chisago City: In the fall of 1978, my friend Dan Frost and I took a class on Dickens at the College of St. Thomas as part of our master's degree in education programs. The course was taught by Dr. Joseph Connors, who was interesting, knowledgeable and enthusiastic in his teaching of Dickens. One book we read was "Pickwick Papers," which we both checked out of the library. I was delighted by the antics and adventures of the Pickwickians, Alfred Jingle, and Sam and Tony Weller.

Dickens brought the period alive with his rendering of characters, locals and class struggles.

I related to my wife, Clarice, how much I had enjoyed Dr. Connors and "Pickwick." On Christmas morning, I opened a package under the tree and found an almost 100-year-old copy of "Pickwick Papers," which Clarice had found in The Cobweb antique store in Ely. I read aloud to her the chapter, "Christmas at Dingley Dell."

Every year since, I have started reading "Pickwick" the day after Thanksgiving and get to the "Dingley Dell" chapter around Christmas. I never tire of Dickens' wonderful prose.

Richard Hanson, Prior Lake: The day before the reading, I explained to my class what we were going to do. I encouraged them to bring a pillow or a bean-bag chair. In years to come, they wore pajamas or bathrobes to the candlelit ritual.

I told them how much the story meant to me, and how I was counting on them to listen carefully. Turns out my worries were unnecessary; they bought it immediately. Their sensitive listening touched me, and a new tradition was born. For nearly two decades I read the story on the day before winter break. Students who had become teachers or aides or secretaries or custodians in our district would knock on my door and ask, "Are you going to read 'the story' tomorrow? Can I come?"

After reading the story that first year, I drove home and my mother, who always joined us for the holidays, was waiting in the kitchen. I asked her to ride along to buy some reflectors for the tree. I turned on the radio in the car -- and we heard a voice reading "the story."

The narrative was not complete when we arrived at the store. We parked and listened to the end. And then the announcer took over: "That was Truman Capote reading his 'Christmas Memory.' It was recorded at the Chester Fritz Auditorium on the campus of the University of North Dakota" (my school) "in Grand Forks, N.D." (my home town).

Candy Ames, Pine City: When I was growing up, we lived next door to the VanProoiens. Mrs. VanProoien was a retired teacher. On summer days, she and I would meet in the back yard, where she would read to me and we'd talk about the book. My favorite was "The Boxcar Children," by Gertrude Chandler Warner. She let me keep the book, and I still have it at age 63.

Her husband was an avid reader as well, and later, when I was in my teens, he encouraged me to read "Markings" by Dag Hammarskjold. I did, and it affected me so profoundly that in 1985, my husband and I went to visit Hammarskjold's gravesite in Sweden.

Although there are many tantalizing options for gifts for children and adolescents, my view is still that there are no others as long-lasting as a good book, especially when it is accompanied by the time to read and discuss it with them.

Tom Zelman, Duluth: One of the best gifts I've received was "The Glob," written by John O'Reilly and illustrated by Walt Kelly (of "Pogo" fame). Published in 1952, this children's book tells the story of evolution as the evolving Glob emerges from the sea, grows toes, flees T-Rex and learns to sing. Lots of humor that I didn't get until I was grown up, as when he rhymes "Uggedy gluggedy moon" with Uggedy Gluggedy June." This book was given to me by old friends Jeffrey and Charlotte Marchant.

Stephen Evans, Silver Spring, Md.: When my older brother returned from Vietnam and was discharged from the Army, my family met him at the train station. Standing on the platform, he opened his duffel and handed me three colorful paperback books, the original Ballentine versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. I was about 15 years old at the time, and that gift ignited a lifelong love of fantasy novels. I like to think this is reflected in my own novel ("The Marriage of True Minds," Unbridled Books, 2008). I only lived in Minneapolis for two years, but I found it a pretty fantastic setting for a novel.

Molly Payne, Buffalo, Minn.: The most memorable book I ever received was "Still More Tell Me Why," by Arkady Leokum. My maternal grandma gave me this book in 1972, when I was 12 years old. It's full of fascinating facts answering hundreds of questions children ask. (Of course this was long before the Internet, where answers are a click away.) It was fun and factual and fascinating reading. It answered such questions as, "Why are the colors of a rainbow arranged the way they are?" And "How big is a molecule?"

It made me think as well as learn. My children have treasured this book as well. It is truly timeless reading. I've always loved giving as well as receiving books, and I wonder if my grandmother had any idea of how this book would become a family treasure when she gave it to me.

Karin Bergherr Ward, Minneapolis: I don't think there is one book I could pick out that was more significant than the other. My parents made it a point to give each one of us five kids a book for Christmas every year. The board games, dolls and sweaters are all forgotten, but the books still evoke strong memories. "Heidi," "The Witch of Blackbird Pond," "Annie Oakley" and "The Five Little Peppers" are just a few of the titles I have boxed away in my attic. After all these years, reading is one of my favorite pastimes and the last thing I do before falling asleep at night. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Nina Hale, Minneapolis: In addition to "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," Frank Baum wrote 13 more Oz books. I was obsessed with all things Oz, and in pre-Internet days, the books were very difficult to find. One Christmas when I was 11 my parents found three of the Oz books and gave them to me for Christmas. I was overwhelmed with joy and will always remember the thrill of opening that package. 

Kathy Mattsson, Minnetonka: December, 1963. I was a tiny ant toiling desolately at the University of Minnesota, one of some 40,000 students. Working 20 hours a week in the top floor of the Botany building, commuting two hours a day, studying my brains out ... college wasn't exactly what I had pictured. The boy I joyously fell in love with in September was leaving for a semester of study in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and I was left behind.

Fortunately, my wise, perceptive, and generous kid sister -- the one I had always thought of as a nuisance -- came to the rescue. Under the Christmas tree, Eileen laid a brightly wrapped rectangular shape and offered it to me with a smile. I opened A.A. Milne's entire collection of Winnie the Pooh stories with a scornful sneer. After all, I had just finished studying Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and was racing through Joseph Heller's "Catch 22." But during the long ride home in the car, I opened the book and found myself instantly immersed in a new world, one peopled by strong characters who were alternately overly energetic, sweetly obstreperous, depressed beyond Dostoevsky, or simply exploring the limits of friendship.

The wispy enchanting drawings by E.H. Shepard perfectly populated the book and I laughed out loud often as Tigger was unbounced, Piglet did a grand thing, Rabbit had a busy day, and Pooh nearly met a Heffalump. The book, though poignant, was never mawkish or even "cute." The ending, simultaneously celebrating and mourning the end of childhood, brought tears to my eyes.

I have often returned to Milne's collection of delightful stories with joy. Last year, I brought the book out and sat down with my 8-year-old grandson, Andrew. He protested. It looked stupid, babyish. "Let's not read that," he said.

I promised him we would try one chapter, and then he could tell me if he wanted more. Of course, I chose the chapter in which "It Is Shown That Tiggers Don't Climb Trees," and did a fairly good job of impersonating Tigger, Roo, Piglet, Pooh, Eeyore and Christopher Robin. Andrew was soon in hysterics. Another convert to "an enchanted place." Thank you, Eileen. If I had known in 1955 what a gift you would give me in 1963, I never would have locked you in the bathroom all those times!

Carol Emmans, Osseo: Full disclosure -- I did not actually receive this book physically, but my rural schoolteacher read the book "The Birds' Christmas Carol" by Kate Wiggins aloud. And it was a gift! It's difficult to find the actual publication date because the book has been printed and revised several times, but trust me, it's old.

The story is of sickly 10-year-old Carol, daughter of a very wealthy family, who, as she becomes weaker, plans a Christmas celebration for the large Ruggles family who live in the Birds' carriage house. Although the book I remember had very few pictures, I can close my eyes and see all the illustrations that were painted on the walls of Carol's elaborate bedroom. I can remember the gifts she and her mother chose for each of the Ruggles children, and the Christmas dinner that was served in her bedroom. I can picture the hustle and bustle of the Ruggles children preparing to go to the Big House for dinner -- how Uncle Jack put the children at ease, the meal that was sent over to the Ruggles' mom. The memory of Carol's passing later that Christmas Eve as the choirboys sang in the church next door brings tears to my eyes even today.

"The Birds' Christmas Carol" has legs. My daughter's fourth-grade class performed the story in play form in the 1960s. I read the book to nearly all of my 30 classes during my teaching career, "translating" from time to time as needed. The book has been revised several times during its long life, but my favorite version is the one read to me at district 44 Weaver Lake School. It was a wonderful gift.

Barbara McGehee, Brooklyn Park: The most memorable book I ever received was "Album of Horses," by Marguerite Henry, a Christmas gift from my parents 53 years ago. I remember sitting on the far end of the sofa near the wall at my grandparents' farm as I opened this amazing gift. I was 9 years old, horse crazy and the owner of a spunky little pony. The pony is long gone but the book and those warm memories remain.

Florence Schmidt, Roseville: Many years ago, 1952 to be exact, I was bedridden with rheumatic fever. It was tough enough to be flat in bed, but the only thing on television that summer was the presidential conventions -- not exactly great television for a young girl.

My name was sent in to the local paper asking people to send "sunshine" cards to a shut-in -- me. I was thrilled each day to get mail, which really helped pass the hours. But one day I received a wonderful package -- a book, a beautiful edition of "Andersen's Fairy Tales." The illustrations were beautiful, the edges of the pages were gold, and the cover was a magnificent painting.

The sender was an elderly lady from southern Minnesota and for many months we kept up a correspondence. I am very thankful for her gift.

Kathy Krull, Spring Lake Park: The best book I received before I could read was "365 Bedtime Stories." Every night my parents would read me a one-page story about the many children who lived on "What-A-Jolly-Street." One girl was named Kathy, just like me! I was fascinated, especially since I was an only child wishing for a brother or sister (which never happened). I pretended that the "What-A-Jolly-Street" children were my playmates. That book inspired me to quickly learn to read by kindergarten, and I have been a voracious reader ever since. I am 62 years old and I still have that cherished book.

Fred Korotkin, St. Louis Park: The Magic of Believing" by Claude Bristol was the most useful and best book I ever read. It tells you, in an understandable and easy-to-read manner, how to attain your goals and achieve success. If you feel you've been unsuccessful, simply follow suggestions in the book and you will become successful.

Long ago, I wanted to be included in "Who's Who." By following the tips in "Magic of Believing" for more than 50 years my biography has been printed in "Who's Who in the World" and "Who's Who in America." Articles and columns written by me have been published in newspapers and magazines and have been reprinted in books and other publications.

I give the book at birthdays, Christmas and for other occasions. It has opened the gates of success for many of my relatives and friends.

Krystal Brandes, Bloomington: "My husband and I began dating in October 1977, two months before Christmas. Since I am an avid reader, he gave me the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. I had never read the series, and of course, became immediately hooked on the characters and the magic of Middle Earth. I still have those books today, 34 years later, and my husband still has a knack for gift giving!

G. Simondet, Minneapolis: The most memorable book I ever got as a gift was the New International Version of the Bible. My college boyfriend at the time gave it to me (which I thought was sweet) and told me to read John. I understood for the first time in my head and my heart and even in my gut that this was the truth!

It was the first time I really understood the Bible -- it was written in plain English, unlike some of the other versions I had seen -- and it made a huge impact on me. I'd recommend the NIV to anyone, and start with the gospel of John!

Katharine Holden, Burnsville: I have quests for used books. I put a book on my list and then look for it at every used bookshop, thrift store and not-too-snooty antique shop I come across. These days I can search online and order, but that's not as fun as a quest. At one point in my life I wanted a hardcover edition of E.M. Delafield's "Diary of a Provincial Lady." It's the one in which she says love is nice and all that, but she'd prefer a sound bank balance and good teeth.

Looking for this book was a quest that lasted for years. Friends started asking me if I'd found it yet. I found paperbacks, but no hardcover. One day I needed to do a cemetery run to Winnebago, Minn., to stand in front of my mother's grave and say nothing. I persuaded a friend to come along by bribing her with stories of all the antique stores in towns along or near Hwy 169 going south. We stopped and had lunch at a cafe/junk shop/auto repair/chainsaw art place near Rapidan, Minn.

When I got back to the table from the restroom, my friend said, rather loudly I thought, "Oh, Katharine, you have bits of lettuce and bell pepper in your teeth! And what's up with your hair?" So I went back to the bathroom, gargled and rinsed, got out the brush, all the while muttering to myself Just because we've known each other since St. Kate's freshman year doesn't mean you get to be rude.

When I came out of the restroom for the second time, my friend presented me with a package wrapped in two menus and secured with black electrician's tape. Inside was a hardcover copy of "Diary of a Provincial Lady" in very good condition.

She'd spotted it on a shelf where it was being used to demonstrate the use of some chainsaw-carved bookends for sale. It cost her $5 and an Elvis biography, which I had tossed on the backseat of my car.

Jennifer Wills Geraedts, Park Rapids, Minn.: As a child, I received a really nice hardcover copy of "Jane Eyre" from an aunt. I wasn't ready for it yet, but I kept it. Years later, I got a job at a factory. I brought "Jane Eyre" with me to read on lunch breaks. It was the most wonderful escape -- one of the best gifts ever!

Troy Blackford, St. Paul: Both the best and worst are from the same person, eighth-grade English teacher Ms. Vivian. She gave me the worst book I have ever seen in my life, "My Brother Sam Is Dead." OK, it was not the worst I have seen, but the most bitter experience READING a book I can remember. This was one of those books where the point was how sad unfairness is to children, and instead of speaking to that or adding on, they just used it as a crutch. The source of narrative propulsity was supposed to be concern about what happened to the main character's brother, Sam. This book was rude on so many levels, the most offensive being dumbing down an emotionally fraught experience in an effort to teach it to kids, and getting too much in the way of a valuable lesson. The really offensive thing to me is the author's manipulative use of tragedy to elevate their worn story to something "teachable." It is a flagrant disregard for its reader and subject matter, in children's book form.

Which put a sour, sour, SOUR taste in my mouth. When she told me I'd love "Watership Down," my response was probably six shades of violence past "You must be joking from HELL," because giving me a book as repugnant as "My Brother Sam Is Dead" is an offense I don't soon forgive, even at age 13.

It took me THREE WEEKS to read the first 50 pages because all my contempt for this eighth-grade teacher was gushing out in my mind with every line of this story. "Oh yeah right, boo-hurr, durr-huh SURE!" is pretty much what I must have been saying, to myself, every time the rabbits said anything. Fiver was a whiny little brat who needed a good slap.

Only something magical happened. Over the course of time, even through the thick veil of teacher-based displeasure that clouded my vision, the book's charm reached out to me and caressed me, took my hand, told me that indeed everything was going to be all right. Even the ratty old sourpuss who made it her mission to make my eighth-grade year the "year I would always wish I had grown up in a metropolitan area" couldn't darken that book. I've wandered the warrens with those boys a couple times since then, and it always feels like home. 

Even when things are at their worst, someone you hate might be trying to hand you a book you'll love. Never forget that!

Nancy Pate, Orlando, Fla.: "A Child's Garden of Verses," a lovely illustrated edition from my Nanny and Buddy (but probably chosen by my Mom) for the Christmas I was 4; I learned to read from it.

Randy Osborne, Atlanta, Ga.: "The Little McKay loves James Michener," my grandmother told the family. Almost every Christmas of my adult life, she gave me another of his monstrously thick, detail-laden books, which I find unreadable. Where did she get this idea? I never had the heart to ask. But while doing research for a book of my own, I discovered that Michener created the TV show of my boyhood, "Adventures in Paradise," which starred Gardner McKay -- "the source" (another Michener title!) of her nickname for me.

Patricia Johnson, Elk River: I have always considered every book I read as a gift. The best holiday book I ever read came at a time when I really needed a good laugh. It wasn't the holidays, but a day in May. My husband was battling cancer and we were at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester. A one-day appointment had turned into a week. It was Memorial Day weekend, and my 55th birthday as well. I was frustrated and bored. I decided to visit the hospital library. On one of those shelves I found "Skipping Christmas," by John Grisham. From the minute I opened the book until I finished, it was one funny event after another. This book raised my spirits and I never looked at Christmas the same way again. It put all things in perspective.

If you are dreading the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, pick up this book and have a good read. It will always be a favorite of mine.

Caroline Nordstrom, Minneapolis: I had no trouble knowing which book was my favorite gift. When I was 5, I received "A Child's Garden of Verses" from my favorite aunt, who wrote an inscription noting that she hoped this book would be a building block in my "library." It was a book filled with wonderful illustrations and poems from childhood. Many of the poems I memorized. We had a rope swing, as did most people in those days, and I would swing my heart out and recite (or maybe yell) "The Swing" at the top of my lungs, thinking I was quite special. I am now 72 and still have this book. It is something I treasure, as do my three children who were all read to from it, even though they weren't allowed to color in it or play "library" with it.

© 2018 Star Tribune