Sometimes the marks of a book's influence are obvious. Like the 1982 19th printing of Sunset Favorite Recipes my wife used Thanksgiving morning.
Nearly thirty years ago, when we were newlyweds, my parents had given us the book. Now the covers are held together with tape, the corners are frayed, and the pages are covered with thirty years of spills from helping feed four generations of family and countless guests around our table.
As the Christmas season begins, I think of two other gifts of milestone books. Though less worn, they influenced me deeply.
Christmas morning when I was ten, I unwrapped a hardcover edition of Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdal. Through multiple re-readings, this epic true adventure baptized my imagination with the power of narrative nonfiction—and awakened the idea that someday I might also write.
Christmas morning three years later, I unwrapped another hardcover treasure: the current Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. It contained nearly every word I'd need through high school, college, seminary, and my work as a professional writer. In the past decade I've replaced it with a more recent edition, but the tradition remains unbroken. (With its thumb tabs, I find it as easy to use as an online dictionary. But more dangerous, as each page is filled with distracting readings about other words.)
No wonder that when I think of giving a lasting gift, I often think of books.