A Story of Giving

About a month ago, the student organization I’m involved with held a used book sale in the Student Union at my university.  The book sale was entirely run by volunteers: the books were all donated by generous sponsors and the table itself was run by volunteers from the UT Writer’s Guild.

There were some really old, dusty books at the sale, but there were also a lot of things any book-lover might pant over, and I found myself staring at quite a few of them with longing: volumes of poetry and a number of novels I’d been wanting to read.

I ended up volunteering several hours for the sale, and I had the opportunity to meet lots of people and hold some really interesting conversations.  One student who walked up to the table spent some time looking through things and eventually chose three books.

While I was ringing up, I took a look through the titles he’d picked.  “Oh!  Reading Lolita in Tehran?” I said as I counted out his change.  “I’ve always wanted to read that book.”

The student smiled a little and said he’d always wanted to read it, too – and as a religious studies major, it was a topic that fascinated him.  I nodded, wondering what he would think of the book.  I figured I would eventually have to read it, since I have a close friend who is Iranian.

I rang up the student’s order and went back to working on homework, which was how I had decided to pass my time while I sat at the book sale alone.  A couple minutes later, the student reappeared.

“You know, I have this awful habit of buying books and never reading them,” he said.  “So here – I think you’d appreciate this more than I would.”

And he handed me Reading Lolita in Tehran.

I didn’t know what to say.  (I like to think I at least managed a stammered “thank you,” but he had me totally speechless.)  I rarely received books as gifts from my friends and family members, much less total strangers!

The kindness of that total stranger has inspired me in so many ways this holiday season.  Penguin Books USA recently ran a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #booksarebetter to inspire followers to give books as gifts this holiday season.  I’ll give you one better: don’t just give books as gifts to your loved ones this holiday season – give books as gifts to everyone.

Here are a few ways you can do that this December – or any time of the year:

  • Go through your library, find a good book you haven’t read in a long time, and give it to a friend, co-worker, family member, or person you always see at your favorite coffee shop.
  • Donate used books to nonprofits collecting them for used book sales – and don’t forget to attend the sale to support that group financially as well.
  • Support charities like Reach Out and Read, which promotes early literacy and helps physicians create literacy-rich waiting rooms as well as provide age-appropriate books to families and children ages 6 months to 5 years.

There are so many things you can do to bring the gift of reading to someone in your life or even someone whose life you barely brush.  This season, and all through next year, give a book new or used to someone who needs it in their life – because, after all, books are better.

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