We’re in Illinois for the next several weeks, in my childhood home in a small town in the middle of the state. Shifting gears from Los Angeles means there is an abundance of time and space and quietude. There is nothing to do here, really. Oh, there are plenty of pleasant, quiet, serene outings that take up a morning or an hour – the Abraham Lincoln New Salem village, the tiny zoo, a walk around the duck pond, a trip to the drive-thru coffee shop. I can drive my son past my old high school and show him where I played in the park as a kid. There are scrambled eggs in the morning, sandwiches at lunch, dinners made by my mother in the evening. It’s an absolute retreat from the world of Los Angeles, and my parents’ house is a house designed for reading. Every chair with a lamp and a side table and a foot stool. Every table with a pile of books and magazines. Trips to the well-appointed public library happen every other day, at least.
For me, reading in the summertime just hits different. I read more, for one. I may read three or four books a week, because I can read for several hours a day. I read more indiscriminately because my purpose has shifted. During the school year, I most often read for business. I keep up with trends, I vet books for the collection, I read teacher or student recommendations, I re-read a book that’s going back into the curriculum, I skim, I assess, I “librarian”. Summertime reading, however, is just for me. The activity itself is the purpose. The long, lazy mornings on the patio or the sofa with coffee. The heat-induced siestas where my eyes close for a few minutes and that drowsy, timeless feeling blurs the lines between my book and my dreams. The quiet nights where I read long past my bedtime because I don’t have a bedtime, for now.
If you looked through my goodreads ratings and isolated the summertime books, you’d see a whole lot of five stars! Five stars! FIVE STARS! That’s because I also like books more in the summertime. I like books more because I’m not judging them or studying them. I’m just enjoying them. In summertime, a five star book is a book I had a great time reading. A book that swept me away, or kept me guessing, or just filled the time pleasantly. Maybe the ending was too tidy or too swift, and maybe there are holes in the plot, and maybe this character wasn’t so well developed. Who cares? It’s summertime! Did I enjoy reading it? FIVE STARS!
I can’t help but wonder if my students get to experience this transformation in summertime. I suspect some do, if they aren’t over-scheduled by summer school, internships, camps, sports, etc. If their summers include empty time, do they fill it with murder mysteries and romance novels? Perhaps. For many of them, their required summer reading is likely to be looming over them, making summertime reading bliss harder to achieve. Do any of them read those books first, to get them out of the way so they can relax into their library books? I doubt it. They wait to read them until late summer (if they read them at all) to make sure the book is fresh in their minds for the first days of school when they’ll need to retrieve details for discussions and essays and possibly even quizzes. With Jane Eyre sitting on the bedside table, lurking, can they sink into a cozy fantasy novel without guilt? Do they lose themselves in a random bestseller if 1984 is just sitting there, daring them to start annotating it?
Every summer I think about this. Every summer I think that maybe I should create a summer reading challenge, or a summer reading book club, or a summer reading incentive for my students. But then, wouldn’t my own summertime reading become business again? I haven’t been able to make that sacrifice for my students. It means too much to me to have this retreat from my professional life. Perhaps if my school’s campus and library were open all year, it would be different. I know for some of you, you’re working right now, and summer reading programs are part of your school culture. At my school, everything goes quiet. There’s a little summer school, and then the campus empties. If I built it, would they come? Maybe. But for now, I’m going to go make another cup of coffee and pick up my next book.
What does summertime reading mean for you? Did you just go to ALA and pick up a new stack of ARCs? Do you use your summer to binge watch all the shows you missed during the year? I’d love to hear!
My most recent reads: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill, Beneath the Stairs by Jennifer Fawcett, Search by Michelle Huneven.