The family that reads together…gifts books for Christmas

Posted 1/3/20

There’s a line from the eminently-quotable film “The Princess Bride” — a movie about a book, based on screenwriter William Goldman’s book about a book — that my wife Lee Ann and I liked …

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The family that reads together…gifts books for Christmas

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There’s a line from the eminently-quotable film “The Princess Bride” — a movie about a book, based on screenwriter William Goldman’s book about a book — that my wife Lee Ann and I liked to throw out to our three children when they were growing up.

Near the beginning of the film, the frumpy Peter Falk, portraying the loving grandfather preparing to read a book to his video-game playing grandson, says: “When I was your age, television was called books.”

Around our house, we used the line mostly in fun. Rarely was it an admonition. It didn’t need to be; we didn’t watch a lot of TV. Our now-adult children were voracious readers in their school days, notably our middle child Addison, who — brag alert here — taught himself how to read at age 2. (This was thanks to his own drive to catch up with early-reading brother Zachary and his own genius, not necessarily his mom’s or dad’s.)

So it’s not surprising that when it comes to Christmas in our family, it’s pretty standard for books to be exchanged as gifts. This year, though, the gifting was of a slightly different vein: instead of the usual historical non-fiction and favorite-author fiction that make up the bulk of the book gifts, there was a preponderance of personal development titles — accompanied by a lot of, “I loved reading this; it really helped me, and I think it’ll help you” explanations.

It’s made for fascinating post-Christmas conversation.

I like to think that we’re a pretty self-aware family, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have hang-ups. A part of our family’s self-awareness is a self-critical nature and pointing out faults — our own and others’ — and, thankfully, finding ways to do life better.

For example, I gave both my boys a copy of a book I’m reading that I am absolutely loving — “Indistractable,” by Nir Eyal, a book with the subtitle, “How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.” As someone whose ability to focus sharply and consistently on tasks (difficult and otherwise) has suffered in recent years — and as an observant father who notices his sons’ reliance on technology and shares their affinity for reaching for our smartphones way too frequently — reading “Indistractable” has been eye-opening. Eyal addresses the psychology of distraction and teaches that in order to gain traction (which is the opposite of distraction) in our lives, we have to learn how to address the source of all distraction: namely, the internal trigger of discomfort. Recognizing our triggers and creating strategies to deal with (called “hackbacks”) then allows us to stay on track — and get traction in places in our lives where (and when) it’s most needed.

For their part, Addison and his wife Charis gifted each of us a pair of books by the same author — “The Road Back to You” and “The Path Between Us,” both having to do with the Enneagram, an ancient personality type system which has been around for decades (if not centuries) and is gaining steam in business and religious circles, thanks to new books, seminars and websites about it.

Taking an Enneagram test (you can find a basic one online for free) gives you a “map” of your personality, and tells you where on the nine-pointed Enneagram diagram you fall — relating to the nine major personality types (The Reformer, The Helper, The Achiever, The Individualist, The Investigator, The Loyalist, The Enthusiast, The Challenger, The Peacemaker). Knowing about the types (and the healthy and unhealthy levels and layers within, and how the types best interact) teaches and aids in self-awareness, self-understanding and self-development.

Suffice it to say that much of our post-Christmas chatter has revolved around what we’re learning, as well as sharing lessons from our own reading practices and experiences. The week’s mild weather also made it possible — when we weren’t playing board games, which are another favorite Christmas gift — for us to sit in our screened-in porch and read and talk about what we’re learning.

And aside from checking the scores of a couple of football games on Sunday, our TV was barely on at all in the last week.

Needless to say, at the age we are now, books are still books. And they make great gifts. But the best gift has been the togetherness and sharing that followed Christmas day. That’s something I’d happily unwrap any day of the week.


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