My grandmother used to always say that she felt sorry for those who didn’t read. She loved books and one of her favorite expressions was “you miss out on whole worlds if you don’t read”. She was right of course — books have the ability to open up whole worlds, as well as zoom in on the smallest details. They have made many a long plane ride bearable, and sleepless night go by a little quicker. I still remember the title of the first chapter book I finished by myself: “Tanten som stjälar”, loosely translated as “The lady who steals”. It had it all — adventure, excitement, and redemption!

My grandmother wasn’t the only one who championed books in my family. My mom is a librarian and she used to bring home stacks and stacks for us to read. The power of books to be able to transport you to a different time and place is well known, as is their value as an educational tool. But books are so much more. They are great because they build bridges — between people and worlds, and across time.

I can’t count the times I have been “saved by a book” in an awkward small talk-situation, whether it’s been by simply bringing up something I read recently, or by asking people about their favorite books or authors. Not only do you get the conversation going, you can also get great ideas for your books-to-read list.

People swear by book clubs and the role they play in their social life, and while I have never belonged to a book club, I have always enjoyed discussing books with friends and family. I’m not big on analyzing, but finding out how someone else has interpreted and understood a certain character or passage can be both eye-opening, and occasionally unsettling. Regardless, sharing “book-insights” is a great way to connect, explore and learn.

A friend of mine will prepare for travel by reading not just guidebooks and travelogues, but will also seek out fiction and historical books by local authors to try to learn more about the country or place she’s visiting. She finds that the sensibilities, structure and temperament of a country and its people are made more visible that way.

Books also have the power to bring you back to a certain time and place. I can still hear my brother laughing when reading his favorite childhood book. He read this one particular book over and over — laughing just as hard each time. He has one of the best laughs I know and it makes me smile just thinking about it. I must have read “On the teeny tiny farm” to my oldest a thousand times when she was little — I can still recite parts of it by heart. I see her in her stroller, flowery baby cap on head and book in hand — for quite a while it was her constant companion.

Sometimes when I am homesick, I turn to books where the stories take place at home. Reading about people in familiar places — places where I have been, where I have walked the streets and recognize the landmarks, where the food is familiar and cultural references innately known, is just plain comforting. Or, when I have been somewhere new and want to keep the place alive a little longer in my mind, I seek out stories that are set there.

The holidays are around the corner and I just received a booklet with “book recommendations for every reader” from my local independent bookstore. I’m marking it up, thinking about which book to give to whom. Books have been my go-to gift forever — whether it’s for a housewarming party, birthday celebration or any other occasion, there is always a book that is just right!

By: Felicia Shermis

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