During the drive into work a week or so ago, we were listening to an article on Morning Edition on summer reading. Jim turned to me and asked, “Why are they talking about summer reading? It is almost September. School has started. What’s so special about summer reading? What? Do people quit reading in the fall?” All these questions posed in rapid fire succession.
His questions got me to thinking about summer reading. Here are my thoughts.
One way I think about summer reading has to do with school. Libraries and schools run summer reading programs to encourage children to read for fun. Hopefully we are encouraging them to select the books they like with the insidious side effect of helping to maintain and improve the skills they learned during the school year. Should summer reading be an assignment? I don’t think so, where is the joy in that? I think back on long summer days lazing on the sofa or by the pool with a great book. I always thought it was a wonderful way to spend my time.
As an adult, I still have a special feeling about summer reading. I don’t know that I have any more time to read, but somehow I look forward to the books I’ve chose specifically for the summer. Maybe I get to read a little later as the day is longer? Maybe I change the kind of book I read? I have vacation so I look for a special book to carry along with me. Sometimes libraries run summer reading programs for adults in conjunction with the programs they run for children. I remember the summer we spent in Virginia. Our library had a board where you could post reviews of the books you read. It was very enjoyable. Somehow there just seems to something magical about the whole idea of summer reading.
As I was looking for information about summer reading, I found an article in the Boston Globe titled “How America Learned to Love Summer Reading. In the early 1890’s, Boston librarians noted a shift from loans of books on mostly history, science, and biography to a checkout of mostly light fiction during the summer months. Summer reading became more popular as summer breaks and vacations became available to more people not just the elite. Early on summer reading was intended to be light and escapist. In the early 1900’s, the idea of summer reading changed and it was suggested that these summer reading hours should be devoted to self-improvement. In another change along about 1915, it was allowed that if a person enjoyed a history or a biography or a novel in the winter he/she could enjoy them in the summer as well¹.
Here’s their final thought on summer reading and it is one I can get behind.
But summer reading has come to offer an ideal space in the middle, equally accepted as a way to escape the pressures of work or as a course in self-improvement. As you plan your reading for these last days of summer, there’s no longer a need to be defensive. Instead, you can be pleased to be joining a venerable, beloved American tradition—the right to relax with a book in the sun¹.
Summer reading is a pleasure to me,
An indulgence to be savored.
An afternoon with my current book,
Relaxes and sustains me.