What is it that makes us call certain books “summer reads” (or “beach reads”)? Is it that they’re books that we can get lost in? or books that we don’t mind falling asleep or being interrupted while reading? Or perhaps it’s a lighter subject matter? Why don’t we have “winter reads”?
Anyway, over the past few weeks several former students (one graduated in ’98, another in ’11) have asked for summer reading recommendations. I suggested Fifth Business… Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore… Espedair Street…. Wicked Lovely… and And On the Eighth Day. Quite a range, isn’t it? The trick is to match the book to the reader, right? Those books so match their readers and I’ve heard a few comments back, mostly of the “loving this!” variety. It’s not just students, either: my mother, my aunt, friends and friends-on-behalf-of-their-children have asked for recommendations. I’m not assuming that they don’t have access to great librarians who can do Reader’s Advisory – this is more about our connection and them knowing that I know them.
One of the problems I have with required summer reading is that often it’s not personalized. It’s “improving” or something similar – the idea that people should read for the fun of reading, to keep in the habit of just engaging with text of some sort (could be a graphic novel!) is for some reason not what schools want. Let’s be honest, once you’re out of an academic environment, close reading the way English departments want is not something you do. And seriously, who does close reading of a murder mystery? I know some people who always do close reading, who analyze the text the way a surgeon analyzes an MRI prior to cutting the patient. But the rest of us? So why not promote personalized reading that the reader enjoys – fiction, non-fiction, graphic novel, whatever – and have them really relax?