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December 6, 2008

Laura Pedersen: How Book Giving Ruined a Pot Roast

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No good can ever come from banning books, as demonstrated by today's guest blogger, Laura Pedersen --- whose new memoir, BUFFALO GAL, is featured in this week's Holiday Basket of Cheer. Here, she reveals why her family has attempted to do so in the first place, and describes how the family tradition of book giving was kept alive by a particularly rowdy game of Trivial Pursuit.

In my family we've attempted to ban book giving on birthdays and holidays, the reason being that the rest of the evening is lost to reading, everyone perched in a chair thinking they'll just have a glance, and before you know it there are some small skirmishes over good lighting and the smell of burning roast is coming from the kitchen. That's because I come from a newspaper family and they're addicted to the constant flow of information, the worse the better. If a fire truck clangs down the street, the entire family leaps up from the table and heads out after it. My mother has a police scanner going 24/7 next to her reading chair in the living room and regularly calls to tell me when the father of a childhood friend topples of his roof.

However, we haven't banned books, yet, largely because we like to buy them as gifts for other family members and read them first (but if you drop it in the bathtub, you own it). It's not only cost-saving but a version of recycling and perhaps even an odd form of literary society. Never is a book exchanged without the giver saying, "You'll love the part where they're in Africa" or "Don't read the last page first or you'll be sorry." (My mother and Uncle Jim are the rascally readers who immediately turn to the end before so much as checking the inside cover for an inscription.)

What's really saved book giving in our family is playing Trivial Pursuit. My mother, aunt, and uncle, are viciously competitive when it comes to games of knowledge, having grown up without television, amusing themselves with word games. They quickly cascade back in time, yelling accusations of cheating and demanding that I reread the rules. One night I had my high school class over for a holiday get together. We were college-bound seniors taking all A.P. classes, and thinking we were pretty smart. One of the girls had even starred on a television quiz show. For the first time the Watson Clan had a chance to take on some outsiders, and they handily wiped us out, three of them against over twenty of us, including a boy who'd been accepted early decision to Harvard. My self-educated Uncle, who'd left school at 16 and worked as an editor at The Courier-Express, was especially flushed with victory.

My friends and I have bought a lot of books since that fateful and humiliating day. It's 25 years later and I can safely say that we're prepared for a rematch, though I can't be certain we'd win, because they've been reading right along with us, page for page.

Check back tomorrow for Ad Hudler's hilarious attempt to drop a less-than-subtle hint to his less-than-considerate new neighbors.