I would be hard-pressed to tell you the best book I ever got, because when I was growing up I got books all the time: every Christmas, every birthday. Sometimes for no occasion at all.
I got the “Little House” books one at a time for years, all out of order.
I got “Sometimes Magic,” a collection of short stories for teenage girls, edited by Hallie Burnett, a book I have since bought and sent to various nieces.
I got my brother’s copy of “Robinson Crusoe,” signed to me in his spiky handwriting on the flyleaf just eight months before he died.
I have all of these books still. But which one was best? It’s impossible to say.
So instead I asked all of you that impossible question, and it is no surprise that you all had wonderful answers.
“My grandfather gave me the Oxford edition of ‘The Pickwick Papers’ when he returned from England one time. It was the first time I’d seen all of the illustrations. Because I’d read ‘Pickwick’ twice I knew that the illustrations in the library’s Dodd Mead edition were wrongly captioned. Laughably so.
“I went on to read ‘Pickwick’ probably 10 more times before I was 20. I have the illustrations from a badly broken older edition framed on the walls of the office where I work as an illustrator. I still have this copy my grandfather gave me, but I have several other editions, as well as several books about ‘Pickwick,’ on my shelves.”
Eric Hanson, Minneapolis
“My daughter Julie gave me this book in 1990 after I told her the stories of my aunts who left such a huge impression on me growing up. Aunt Theresa always remembered my birthday as well as Christmas, in spite of the fact that she was raising her seven orphaned nieces and nephews by herself.
“Also, my Aunt Annie sent us a huge box of Christmas presents each year. I’ll never forget the excitement when the mailman drove up our long country driveway with the special delivery.
“Needless to say, the book ‘A Cup of Christmas Tea’ is very close to my heart.”
LaVerne Torborg, Minnetonka
“When I was about 7, my grandmother gave me the picture book ‘The Racketty-Packetty House’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My grandmother came from England at about the age of 4. She had this book as a child and wanted me to enjoy it as well. It gave me a peek into my grandma’s life as a child. I still have it and cherish it.”
Susan Kissman, New Buffalo, Mich.
“Two of the best books I ever received as gifts were ‘The Tawny Scrawny Lion’ by Kathryn Jackson and illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren and ‘The Historian’ by Elizabeth Kostova. The first was my favorite book as a child. When I was about to get married, my parents searched for and found a copy to give me. Now that my dad is no longer with us, the gift is doubly precious.
“The second was a gift from a good friend upon the birth of my third child. In the pile of diapers and bottles and baby toys, a gift that reminded me to take time for self-care was appreciated.”
Ann Bimberg, Watertown
“My favorite gift is a book that can no longer be purchased, but it is truly one of the best gifts I have received. Last year, my brother gave me my aunt’s ‘Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book,’ first edition, copyright 1950. This book will be treasured forever.”
Linda Roeller, Maple Grove
“The best book I have received was ‘Last Child in the Woods’ by Richard Louv. A child in nature is an endangered species. I believe the child’s health and the health of the Earth are inseparable. I was raised on a farm with a big woods as my backyard.”
Bob Fields, St. Louis Park
“I randomly put ‘Ordinary Grace’ on my Christmas list a few years ago, based on suggestions others had made to the Star Tribune list. I could not put it down and finished reading it while eating breakfast one morning. I have placed this book in many gift baskets and like to recommend any book by William Kent Krueger.”
Anne Fenske, Willmar, Minn.
“In a family where paycheck to paycheck meant just that, gifts for birthdays and holidays were shirts and pants and underwear and socks. But in December 1956, my aunt Marge changed that. For Christmas that year she gifted me ‘Touchdown Pass,’ a book about Chip Hilton, the hero of a sports series by Clair Bee. To a young sports enthusiast growing up in a house of non-readers, that book and each one that followed in the series opened doors that led to a 36-year career as an English teacher and coach.”
George Hoeppner, Oak Park Heights
Books! You can’t go wrong. No matter what holiday you celebrate — and even if you don’t celebrate any — here’s hoping that you receive a few festively wrapped flat packages soon, with your name on them.