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Threshold Gifts on the Bookshelf of Your Life

alex atkins bookshelf booksHave you ever received a book on a special occasion like high school or college graduation, or a religious ritual like a first communion or a bat/bar mitzvah, or an engagement or wedding, or your first job or your retirement? Carefully chosen books certainly enhance life’s milestone by making them more special and memorable. One day, when you are much older, you will reflect back on your life and think back on the “bookshelf of your life” and reflect on how those books brought you comfort, joy, or enlightenment. Perhaps some of them helped guide you through the inevitable peaks and valleys of your life journey. Indeed, some may be a part of you, like the enduring influence of a parent, close friend, teacher, or mentor.

In his fascinating book on books, The Secret Life of Books, Tom Mole, a professor of English Literature and Book History at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, recognizes how special these gifted books can be: “The anthropologist Lewis Hyde would describe these books as ‘threshold gifts.’ These are gifts that mark the passage from one place or state of being to another. Often given as part of a ritual presentation, they are at once a way of ensuring the safe passage across the threshold, a marker certifying that the threshold has been passed, and a reminder of the experience. At the thresholds between childhood and adolescence, between singleness and marriage, between marriage, between apprenticeship and qualification, and between life and death, books stand guard.”

What are some of the most cherished books that you received as gifts on the bookshelf of your life?

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