A Fresh Spin on Summer Reading and Why it Matters

colorful stack of books with electronic reader on top, in grass
Robert Bergman '93

If I told you that you could be smarter and more well-adjusted with one activity that requires only 10 to 15 minutes a day, would you do it? 

That’s why we should read: it makes us smarter and more empathetic, relieves stress, and helps increase self-awareness. It allows us to safely inhabit a quiet space and explore a self-contained world without distractions or accusations or even fear. No one can deconstruct our thoughts when we read, and our reactions are pure, without criticism or even prejudice from the outside. 

Reading gives us the opportunity to look at the world through another person’s eyes but not in an intrusive way; the author actually invites us to participate in his or her story and wants us to  foster our own ideas and confront our own prejudices in a safe and reflective manner. When I read, I enter a world of thought and emotion that is not my own; it can’t be, and it is in a nice quiet isolation that allows me freedom to be my true self without judgment from anyone.

So Many Ways To “Read” Today

Reading has never been more convenient, and it can be very affordable—and oftentimes free! Instead of scrolling through social media or the news on your mobile device, open up an app and read a book. Download a book to a Kindle app or the Library Libby app or Apple Books to your phone. Maybe have a couple going at once to keep your mind active.  

Summer reading doesn’t have to even be reading – listen to the book.  There are so many excellent audiobooks available, from classics (which you can usually find for free) to more recent best-sellers.  Many of the books can be found for free on YouTube of all places. Pick a good narrator for your audiobook: Slaughterhouse 5 with Ethan Hawke narrating, The Old Man and the Sea with Donald Sutherland, and The Alchemist with Jeremy Irons are all worth the listen, and each narrator inhabits the role with such emphasis and craft.  Listen to a book read by the author if you can. One of my greatest listening experiences happened this past year when I listened to Jason Reynolds read his novel Long Way Down for the audiobook.  He read in his words, in his voice, so he could use an impassioned tone to emphasize what he believed was important in his own work; it was beautiful, haunting, and emotional.  It is a unique way to experience a novel.

Top Tips for Fresh Approach to Summer Reading

I recommend trying this:  

1.    Pick three books. (You might be thinking, “But I only have to read one for school!” Yeah, count that one too.)

  • Pick a classic, a genre book (murder mystery, sci-fi, horror, etc), and your summer reading.
  • Set a schedule of a June book, a July book, and an August summer reading book.

2.    Invite your family to participate!

  • Have your parents and siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, read the same book.  
  • When you go on vacation, set aside a day to talk about the book.
  • Have a mini-book club at a family reunion. Although reading is a quiet and individual activity, reading the same book together can give your little community something to talk about other than the everyday sports, TV, movies, etc. It is an artistic discussion about something with gravitas instead of some passing fad.

3.    Pick a book from a living author, (maybe an author that is going to visit St. Louis,) then go listen to that author speak.

  • Invite your friends and family, go as as group.
  • If possible, meet the author and ask questions about his or her work.  I did that with Chuck Palahniuk and Kurt Vonnegut (before he died). 

4.    Visit an author’s birthplace, home, residence, or spot of inspiration.

  • When you go on vacation, see what author has lived there and visit their residence and read one of their books.  

I’ve been to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house in Cincinnati, Mark Twain’s birthplace in Florida, Mo., and his boyhood home in Hannibal; William Shakespeare’s home in Stratford on Avon; and Robert Louis Stevenson’s home in Edinburgh, Scotland.  I’ve been in the bar where F. Scott Fitzgerald began writing The Great Gatsby in Louisville, Ky., I’ve been to the hotel where Stephen King had his nightmare that inspired The Shining in Estes Park, Colo.,  

Reading any author’s work in his or her environment allows you to interact with history and literature. Reading in all its various forms allows you to connect within another’s space, while improving your own. 

Less stress, more empathy. Fewer distractions, more self-awareness. Think of summer reading as an enjoyable opportunity to expand your mind and to live in someone else’s shoes safely.  

Make reading a part of your life rather than a chore—even if it’s just 10 minutes a day. You won’t regret it.

Here is My List for the Summer

  • The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, a novel that inspired the film, The Village of the Damned.
  • A Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare — my plan is to listen to it while we drive on vacation.
  • Cujo by Stephen King —I’ve never read it and though I could use a good scare.
  • The Echo Maker by Richard Powers — It won the National Book Award for Fiction and was a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist in 2006. 
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky—Considered a “Modern” Classic of coming of age literature – look out, sophomores.
  • Star Wars: Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray – sometimes you need dessert with your literary feast.  Oh, and I love Star Wars.

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