Summer Reading

Summer Reading

“One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.” ~ Jeanette Walls

“Summer reading,” the woman said, with an apologetic shrug translating as a plea for forgiveness. That outgrowth of embarrassment was meant to explain both the book and its title, neither one of which I remember to this day. What I do recall well is the significance I attached to her contrite description of the book’s lack of value or need to be taken seriously because it was ‘summer reading’, with all that conjures up. I’d simply peered at the book’s cover as she sat next to me on the bus gazing at everything except the book, but she’d leaped quickly to an assumed pejorative on my part and categorized her choice as something acceptably lesser because it was ‘summer reading’.

I spent the rest of my ride next to her lost in a world of summers long ago, when I was a schoolgirl with a long reading list of mandatory titles, required reading before what I hoped would be a vacation from school pressures, but worried about getting through them all before the summer even started. Why was that? Possibly because I was a late reader (many writers are) so always felt reading might be, could be, would probably be a challenge, even though I loved storytelling, both biographical and fictional.  And yes, the summer was long enough for me to get through the ten required titles on the school’s list, but it was about as much fun as pulling teeth, right up to the last book I was always plowing through the week before we went back in the fall.

So what was the problem, if I was an enthusiastic though slow reader? And why is there no residual discomfort as an adult reader when the visceral reaction I had to ‘summer reading’ was so unpleasant? Mandatory! That sense of the school’s list being obligatory, compulsory, someone else’s choices rather than my own. It seemed to me that reading was too personal to be a statutory requirement. So how did I get around my allergic reaction to those early lists? As soon as I was free of them, I started making my own lists, desired instead of required, as the year went on, so I’d have my own choices by the time summer days rolled around. And I’ll admit that compiling that list has gotten easier with all the different ways one can choose books online and keep reference selections with the click of a Kindle or other digital offering. Making my own choices to read (or not to read) any book ever published has made all the difference in the way I view ‘summer reading’, and I hope that young woman I once sat next to on the bus has been able to rise above her own complexes about that most maligned of occupations. There are so many choices waiting for me to enjoy this summer, I can’t wait to get started, and I hope some schools are empathetic enough to understand that such a personal choice should be left up to the individual. It certainly would have changed how I viewed that most pleasurable of summer pastimes!

One Response to Summer Reading

  1. Unlike you my schools never required any readings over the summers.Maybe I would have benefitted had they.
    Your essay trigger my early belief about the the quality of books and needing to read ‘good’ books, until one day my aunt, who was a professional writer, pulled me aside and exclaimed that it didn’t matter what I read, as long as I read. “Don’t be ashamed of reading any kind of book.” Maybe there is something to that. Could it be that just the act of reading a book is enhancing to one’s life whether a dime store novel or War and Peace. Startling that in the land of a belief in free speech one should denigrate a book they enjoy by referring to it as a summer read, as if that means its not important.

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