Want to kill the joy of summer reading? Start out with a required reading list. Being told you have to read it by August 27th isn’t going to make anyone love a book. You don’t even remember it until about August 18th and then you can’t find any copies at the library, because everyone else has also put off reading it, but you don’t want to buy it. Get stuck with a copy of Ivanhoe? No way. Potential love of book: dead. (Full disclosure: I have never read Ivanhoe, but it did show up on a reading list once, which is why I resent it so.)
It doesn’t make it any better if you have a choice among, say, five books. What will you choose if you’re forced? The safe one, obviously, whatever that means for you. The one you’ve already read. The shortest one. The one that doesn’t have “classic” anywhere on the cover.
If a particular book isn’t required and you like reading, though, the joy of summer is something else entirely. Reading on vacation, on a car trip, or in the airport might mean picking up books you’ve set aside or saved for the trip. (Why did my best friend give me this one? Does she think I’m like the brainless main character, or does the romantic interest remind her of that boyfriend of mine who wore leather?) Or you could be revisiting an old friend in a personal classic. (Charlottle and Wilbur, anyone?) Or maybe you’re trying out something new for a change. (The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, perhaps?)
I check out a crazy number of books from the library. Our limit is 50 items at a time, and I’m often up to 40+. (I read a lot of picture books and children’s fiction, so it’s easy for them to add up.) My list of holds (limited to 99 at one time) often has close to 80 books on it.
Unless it’s a really special book, though, I don’t take the library books on vacation, because I’m afraid of accidentally leaving them in someone’s guest room or setting it down on a table and forgetting it. Vacation reading for me means going through the books I’ve collected, mostly paperbacks, which don’t have to be returned. If I don’t like them, I can leave them. If I do like them, I can still pass them on to other people to read.
One of the best things about not having a schedule for a few days, even if you’re staying at home, is being able to look at the books that have been collecting and figure out which one will come first. Will it be the second book in the Vango series? (Yes, definitely yes.) Am I up for trying a Harry Potter in German? (Also yes. More on that another day.)
For adults who love reading, the challenge is really how to fit it in rather than whether or not to do it at all. There are seasons of Mad Men and House of Cards to catch up on. Podcasts to listen to. Games to watch. Chores to do. Cat videos to watch. I sometimes only really get much reading done from about 2:00-4:00 in the morning when I’ve woken up and can’t get back to sleep. But I often find that if I start something then, I do finish it. Sometimes I have to go back a few chapters to figure out who people are, but if I’m loving something, it’ll happen.
The kids who most need to spend the extra time reading, however, are also the ones who will happily while away the day at the pool or watching tv or gaming– doing anything BUT reading. That time off in the summer actually hurts them academically. (You can find all sorts of research on this if you do any kind of search, and it’s summer, so I’m not doing it for you.)
How can we make it a good thing for them?
For starters, it’s not the worst thing in the world for us to shut off the devices – weird, I know, but no one will actually die from it – and let the kids get bored. In some neighborhoods, they might play outside, which isn’t a bad thing. In other places, they might be in a summer youth program or just at home, inside. Getting bored might actually spark some creativity. Give some second graders a deck of cards and no rules, and they might just come up with their own new game to play. Hand a kid a stack of scrap paper and a pencil and they might draw something or start writing their own story or graphic novel. They might finally pick up that book their teacher gave them on the last day. They could walk over the library for the program on insects. (As free-range and scary as it sounds, if you live close enough to a library and your community actually has sidewalks, it’s a pretty great thing to do.)
It’ll be good for your brain and theirs. Step back. Slow down. Listen. Look. Read.