Aa I write this, armed guards are manning the walls around Bethlehem and Christmas in America is being tainted by Christian cruelty.

But instead of writing about war — cultural and otherwise — let me write about something worth reading — some little texts that will help balance the gray newspaper stories with a touch of light.

When people give books at Christmas, they usually give volumes fresh off the presses. The publishing houses drive that. They want you to pay $29.95 for something untested rather than $7.95 for a proven classic in paperback.

But we shouldn't. Sometimes the best book is an old chestnut that never grows old. Here are five — most of them under 100 pages and under $10. They are as easy to digest as a glass of milk and just as nourishing. Drop one in a stocking. Prices are from amazon.com — but abebooks.com, alibris.com and local bookstores have them as well.

A Christmas Memory, Truman Capote ($5). Before Capote became a media clown, he was known for writing some of the most elegant sentences in English. I heard him read this little book in the 1970s in New Mexico. People were enthralled. The book isn't overtly "inspirational," but I'm convinced Capote's gifts as a writer — sensitivity, generosity, empathy — were spiritual gifts.

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery ($8). I go back to this little book for the same reason I eat Nally's canned tamales. They take me back to my youth and remind me of what it was like to be hungry and growing. I like the feelings that come back. Saint-Exupery was a pilot, and he said "The Little Prince" came to him after he crashed in the Sahara.

The Things that Matter Most, Lowell L. Bennion ($6). Bennion was the legendary LDS Institute teacher who was an early mentor to Neal A. Maxwell, Emma Lou Thayne, Marion D. Hanks and many others. I once asked him how many books he'd published. "That depends," he said, "on what you call a book." What he wrote were either very chubby pamphlets or very slim volumes. This book is an example. Here he lays out the simple building blocks for a well-lived life — not unlike his own.

Warrior of the Light, Paulo Coelho ($9). Coelho is the best-selling religious writer in the solar system. Everything he touches turns to spiritual gold. Most of his books are too full of angels, spells and such for my taste, but this little handbook is different. Coelho casts people who want to enhance their lives as "warriors" who battle dark forces. He offers suggestions about our attitudes. It's like "Star Wars," but in your own home and heart, not a galaxy far, far away.

A Cry Like a Bell, Madeleine L'Engle ($5). Two monumental Christian writers in the 20th century wrote for children: C.S. Lewis ("The Chronicles of Narnia") and L'Engle ("A Wrinkle in Time"). Lewis receives constant praise, interest and accolades. L'Engle should. This little book of poetry shows her at her best. Here's one of her Christmas verses:

This is the irrational season

when love blooms bright and wild.

Had Mary been filled with reason

there'd have been no room for the child.


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