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by Katie Butler Johnson

On Christmas Eve, with daylight waning and evening seeping in, we kids gathered around Dad for his annual reading of “A Christmas Carol.” We all knew which volume of “The Book of Knowledge” held that abridged edition of Dickens’ tale. One of us would fetch it to him as he made his way to the overstuffed upholstered armchair. He’d read to us about Scrooge and Tiny Tim - adjusting his voice to suit various characters. We knew once Dad finished reading, it was off to bed for us. If we weren’t asleep, Santa might skip our house.

I can’t recall the first time Dad read us “The Christmas Carol.” It must have been after he returned from WW2. He’d been deployed overseas most of my early Christmases. I do remember that him reading it aloud was our family Christmas tradition.

Decades later, there was another Christmas tradition that emerged between my late husband and our first born. It also involved reading. My late husband was a nuclear physicist and a voracious reader. Both he and our eldest were avid science fiction fans. His interest was sparked by his work, her interest by “Star Track.” My husband would visit the science fiction section of a book store and buy a stack of science fiction novels shortly after Thanksgiving. He’d read all of them before deciding which ones were worthy of gifting to our eldest at Christmas. She looked forward to his juried gift which gave them topics to discuss.

I recently learned that Iceland has a longstanding Christmas tradition involving reading. Icelanders give and receive new books on the December 24th and stay up reading those books while drinking hot chocolate or a non-alcoholic Christmas ale called jólabland. They call their tradition “Jolabokaflod” or “Christmas Book Flood.” It began during WW2 when other things were scarce. Luckily, paper was plentiful which made books available and perfect for gifting. They still are. A cup of hot chocolate, a good book, a cozy fire - sounds like a great way to spend time.

I’ve always loved books. They became really important to me during the pandemic. They gave me a way to meet characters and travel in my mind when I had to remain isolated at home.

My book group has given me friends who share my love of reading. (I took that photo of them sitting on the couch after our last meeting. I treasure my friendship with each as I do that with members who couldn’t be there that meeting.)

Although it’s not often everyone in our group likes the same book, last meeting we all did. The book: “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus. It’s funny, irresistable and definitely not a Chemistry text! It’s about a strong woman in the 1950’s who, against all odds, does amazing things. “Horse” by author of “People of the Book”, Geraldine Brooks, was the previous month’s read. It’s a multileveled historical novel - well researched and satisfying. Our December book is “West with Giraffes” by Lynda Rutledge. I’ve read the critics reviews, but not yet the book. I always wait till just before our meeting to read the book so I can recall the particulars. My memory can be a little stubborn recalling details!

Today we appear to be on the cusp of transitioning from reading bound books to reading digital books or listening to audible ones. We’re going from writing on paper to tapping on keys. Each step we humans have taken from the time we began recording data by scratching squiggles onto clay tablets to tapping it into digital cloud has changed how we communicate with each other. What’s next? I hope there’s a method to sift through all that digital detritus filling our inboxes. Could it be possible we’re going full circle back to hieroglyphics with emojis???

Enough pondering about aspects of reading. I have an ample stack of bound books - “must reads” - waiting for me. I’m going to make me a cup of hot chocolate, change into my jammies and begin at the top. Like Scarlett O’Hara, - I’ll think about (the future of human literacy) another day.

Happy Holidays!

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