Knowing that I spend a weird amount of time measuring things, my nephew Sean gave me a second-hand book for Christmas that contains just about every measurement conversion you can think of. Not just garden-variety inches-to-feet manipulations or polyglot Imperial-to-Metric translations. I’m talking 864 pages of small-print equations to calculate granular and arcane equivalencies.
How many calories in a horsepower hour? How many ancient Egyptian hens in a liter? How many barrels in a hogshead? Measure for Measure by Richard A. Young and Thomas J. Glover contains the answers.
While the pages of dense agate offer no formula for converting sincerity and thoughtfulness into a perfect Christmas gift, my nephew nailed the selection by every measure. Even more perfect than the book itself was the accompanying letter, in which my nephew and his partner, Chandra, explained their intentions behind gifting friends and family with books from second-hand sellers:
We find that the stacks of these little shops offer far greater latitude to find titles that correspond to each of you and express some small part of how we actually know and care for you. … Second-hand books have a proven record of patience. They know how to wait for you to be ready for them. There’s even a Japanese word for a stack of purchased-but-as-yet-unread books: tsundoku.
Speaking of giving books — and of polysyllabic bibliophile words without English equivalents — Jolabokaflod is the Icelandic tradition of exchanging reading material at Christmas. I recently learned this word from my friend Paige Bainbridge, who celebrated Jolabokaflod in December, then chronicled the experience in her enchanting new blog. Here’s an excerpt from Paige’s essay “How We Rocked Jolablokaflod”:
The Jokabokaflod exchange was my favorite part of Christmas this year. We sat around the dining table and took turns explaining who our person was, and why we chose what we did for him/her. One person gave his old copy of Jack London’s Call of the Wild to a dog-lover in the group. Another printed out a favorite H.G. Wells short story to share. Someone gave a newspaper article about the recipient’s family member. My gift was from my sister, and when I unwrapped the package, it was like saying hello to an old friend.
So, I’m taking a page from my old friend and my nephew, sharing reading material I hope you’ll enjoy. Add Paige’s new blog to your tsundoku and enjoy a belated Jolabokaflod.