Tag Archives: Maria Popova


When my older brother Steven told me what he wanted for Christmas, I laughed and told him that he was boring.

Steven is similar to me in personality — very different in lifestyle. He’s a rational, fast-paced consultant and I’m a scattered high school teacher. His commute is thousands of miles while my job is five minutes away. So when I start looking for potential presents I’m always wondering if they’re something he would want and enjoy … or just something that I think is cool.

My first decision: The shotgun approach. In addition to his request, I decided to add three more gifts that I thought might engage his creative mind, reconnect him to home, and give him a chance to process his thoughts and emotions throughout the busy work week.

The first is Light Boxes:

 This novel is really a piece of modern folklore that can’t be read to “learn something.” For a book like this, you have to slow down and embrace the flourish of poetry … and learning is indirect. I also appreciate the cover art (suits, scarves, masks and  a creeping monster) for its connection to his current life.

Next item I found for my analytical and professional brother is a simple, black, hardback sketchbook:

With 208 blank, perforated pages, I liked this book because it’s classic, but also has some utility as a place to write todo lists or brainstorms that can be removed and shared. In other words, it’s not another journal … it’s more like a canvas.

Finally, I was thinking about his long commute from the South to the cold Midwest and settled on his last present in this scattershot of gifts: the latest edition of “Garden and Gun.” That way, the next time he flies north he will bring with him a rich and unabashedly southern collection of photos and stories. Not to mention the article, “The Renaissance of Richmond, VA.” Here’s looking at you:

When it all came together, I couldn’t help but appreciate the collection … a pile of blacks, grays, and whites. It’s not for me, but I’ve enjoyed collecting it. As I get older, I hope I continue to find my own style,  while always remembering that saying, “I love you,” through a gift has to include a combination of my interests and another’s desire. That way, it’s personal, but not returned on Monday.

Just in case he gets bored by the narrative of Light Boxes, (“I dreamed you a field of running horses, Selah. For you, Bianca, a balloon the size of the sky, my body a kite you can throw into the air. Pull me by string and horse.”) I made it perfectly clear that I’ll gladly take any one item back for myself. The final benefit to shotgun giving is that nothing hinges on the one big-ticket item.

So, after finding what I thought could be the perfect Christmas gift collection for my older brother, I added the final piece and (I admit) a very practical addition to any grown man’s life:

A clothes hanger.

Sometimes you just gotta share.

P.S. Special thanks to Michael Wolfe and Maria Popova for leading me down this more thoughtful and appreciative path for the past five months.