This afternoon, I let my mind wander off course of a work project and I found myself in Feedly catching up on some blog reading. There I noticed a significant number of blogs talking about summer reading. While reading the post 20 Books of Summer 2015! on 746 Books, it crossed my mind how much I rely on reading list/challenge posts from bloggers to discover new reading. As it’s entering high-season for summer reading challenges, I thought I’d say a few things on the subject of reading lists and summer reading.
When I was a kid, I remember making summer reading lists in school. I actually come across these from time to time when I dig into boxes of old stuff. Some are quite funny: pencil-written lists of Encyclopedia Brown books I planned on reading in the summer of 1978, or lists of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke or other SF books I planned on reading as a 13-year-old. I do remember reading many of the books on these lists, but I have no recollection of reading them at the time the lists indicated. The significance of the list is that it captures your intentions, and your interest in specific books at specific moments in your life. I have never been one to write a list of books which was so compelling as to demand I read all and only those books until the list was complete.
In university, I found there was a constant stream of books being suggested and discussed, particularly in History, English and Humanities courses; far too many books than a busy undergrad could possibly read. There was only one thing I could do in the face of this flood of potential reading: I compiled a complete list in a journal. Over the course of my years at university, the list grew to fill well over 150 handwritten pages.
In recent years, as book blogs have become more common, I am often fascinated with the number of reading lists I find. Many are disguised as a kind of reading challenge, that seems to want to lure others into reading along. The summer reading challenge can be a strange beast. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are solitary affairs. Others are Goodreads-fuelled MMOSRC (that would be, a Massively Multiplayer Online Summer Reading Challenge). Some follow strict author/series/genre/period or other constraints. Others are much more personal, incorporating some interesting motive like reading books that have languished on bottom bookshelves, or been overlooked by a queue of digital titles on one’s tablet. I have always been one to buy more than I can actually read, so I have huge stockpiles of paper books ready and waiting for those long pleasure-less afternoons post-apocalypse, should the end of days fail to bring a dearth of zombies that I must spend my retiring years running from.
In all seriousness, as a reader of many book blogs, the summer reading challenge post can be interesting, and can reveal much about the blog as a source of quality reading recommendations. I frequently come across titles and authors in these posts that are new to me and seem interesting.
At their heart, these posts are just lists of books one intends to read in a near-future period of time. They are no different from any other reading list. So let me say two things about reading lists: 1.) As I have admitted, I have filled volumes with them over the years. 2.) I have probably sacrificed many hours of quality reading while compiling lists only to abandon them before the ink is dry. The only exceptions to this come when I set a reasonable and limited goal for myself that allows for much deviation, on-the-fly alteration, and a certain amount of built-in variety.
But I do like the approach Cathy at 746 Books employs: to chisel away at the mountain of unread paper tomes growing ever dustier in my basement.
So, because it would be cruel of me to write on the subject and not include a short list of my own, here are 5 crime fiction titles I challenge myself to consume this summer which have so-far never made it off the to-read list:
(In no particular order or ranking)
1. The Return by Håkan Nesser
2. A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
3. Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes
4. Burning Angel by James Lee Burke
5. Moghul Buffet by Cheryl Benard
The last thing I’ll say about summer reading is this: do lots of it. It is a rare pleasure to spend an afternoon in summer somewhere shady, perhaps near a river, or on a beach, with a good book. It’s the kind of activity I spend the many dark and cold days of winter dreaming about. Whatever book you read there, whether it makes it onto a list or not, summer reading is time very well-spent.