Why do I have a summer reading list? Two big reasons: 1) because I need time for myself, to be alone with the book, the plot, and the mental scenery I’m constructing and 2) because it gives me a project that I’m completely in control of.
It wasn’t always this way. Reading used to be a big part of my summers, but my lists were informal. I’d snag a few paperbacks before heading to the beach or I’d occasionally drop by the library to see what was new, but it wasn’t a big thing. I read as I’d always read: voraciously. That pattern held up through my 20s and in to my early 30s, but then things got more complicated. My wife and I had kids. I got more responsibilities at work. As the kids got older, our weeks started being consumed by sports, music, and extracurricular activities.
And my reading levels started to fall off.
For a while my 2-hour-a-day commute masked this because I was listening to several books a month driving to work. Once my commute dropped to a 15-minute walk, I lost that reading time. Around about 2007 I found that I wasn’t reading nearly as much as I used to. The days of blissful summer reading were a memory and I was desperate to recapture them.
Enter my summer reading lists. They’re my way of prioritizing my summer and carving out thoughtful, relaxing time for myself. It works. Even in the middle of the hell and fury of a major web redesign project last summer, I had pockets of sanity provided by reading books.
Like going to baseball games, the books on my reading list force me to disengage from the world and the stress of the day. For a few hours I’m in another reality and while the book may get me thinking about different issues and problems … at least they’re not the ones I’m dealing with at work (usually; the chances of aliens invading the college are pretty slim).
I’ll freely admit that I don’t go out looking for hard reads as part of my summer list. The books I choose tend to be more summer popcorn movie reads, though inevitably a few have more serious themes associated with them (see last summer’s Seveneves and Aurora, both of which dealt with the end of the world and the survival of the human race in very different and interesting ways). The point is to find enjoyable books that entertain and transport me; I spend more than enough time thinking about the Big Issues the rest of the year.
The other aspect of my summer reading lists I’ve come to appreciate — particularly this summer — is that the list represents a small project with few external dependencies. I find books. I create a reading schedule. I read the books. Pretty straightforward, right? Making steady progress through my list gives me a sense of accomplishment and stands in contrast to the work and home projects that might have stalled or been bogged down by outside factors. To quote Sam Wilson in Winter Soldier “Hey, the number of people giving me orders is down to about zero.”
Finally, there is an element of competition to it. I do enjoy trying to meet or beat number of books and graphic novels on my reading list. I don’t have to read more books than last summer, and if I fall short, it’s not a big deal … but it is fun to try.
Looking for your own books to read? Check out my summer reading lists: