Summer Reading

Image courtesy cmcgough via Flickr.

.I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve always been pretty serious about planning my summer reading. Or, at least, I’m serious enough to take the time to compose a list of books I want/need/ought to read—whether or not I actually get around to reading them is another story. I’ve always thought of summer as my chance to make up for all the times that I could have been reading but wasn’t, a golden opportunity to fill in those gaps in my literary knowledge. Frankly, there are only so many times that I can pretend to have read Pride and Prejudice and A Tale of Two Cities before someone finds me out.

Since it’s almost the beginning of May, and since spring semester is over in about two weeks, I figured I should start thinking seriously about this year’s summer reading list…and maybe look back on the list that I made last year in order to see what I could do differently.

Last year, I was ambitious. I chose 12 books (plus substitutes) and even made a schedule. I stuck to this schedule for exactly seven weeks, during which time I read A Confederacy of Dunces, four short novels by Marguerite Duras (The Square, Moderato Cantabile, Ten-thirty on a Summer Night, and The Afternoon of Mr. Andesmas) and As I Lay Dying. I was doing pretty well, but for whatever reason, it didn’t stick. Instead of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, I was reading Stephenie Meyer’s The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. After that, there was no going back.

I guess the problem with summer reading is that you inevitably end up choosing a book or two that makes sense at the beach. Sure, I’d like to eventually read Infinite Jest, but it’s pretty tough getting sand out of more than a thousand pages. It’s just safer to stick with short, easy, inconsequential works of mediocrity, you know? And if I had to think too hard, I might forget about other things, like applying sunscreen. If I had stuck to my list of David Foster Wallace and Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf, I could have easily gotten burnt out and burnt up.

So, it seems, I always succumb—at least after a while—to that whole “summer is a time to relax” mentality. I defend my choices in various ways: it’s “research,” I’ve already exceeded the recommended yearly allowance for great works of literature, someone lent me this and I need to give it back…. Mostly though, I think I’m just not a serious enough student to spend a whole summer with Soren Kierkegaard, Joseph Conrad, and Vladimir Nabokov. (Except in my screenplay, in which we all rent a beach house together. Spoiler alert: hilarity and hijinks ensue!) Even my brilliant plan to present my reading list in syllabus form wasn’t enough to keep me on task. I decided that from July 25-31 I wanted to read what I felt like—to Hell with you, Appointment in Samarra, even if I’d probably like you under normal circumstances.

So, anyway, this year, I am just compiling a list of some books I would like to read. Period. No schedule. No debate over literary merit. Maybe I won’t even set myself a goal of how many books to read.

Tentatively, my summer reading list is shaping up as follows:

  1. Vanity Fair — William Thackeray
  2. The Lovers — Vendela Vida
  3. Bossypants — Tina Fey
  4. Swamplandia! — Karen Russell
  5. Sense & Sensibility — Jane Austen
  6. The House of the Seven Gables — Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. Super Sad True Love Story — Gary Shteyngart

A total mix of new and old, light and serious. I don’t even have a reason for choosing them, other than that they all looked interesting. If I read them, that’s great, but if I don’t, oh well. I’m trying something new, easing up on the summer reading madness this year. Ultimately, I just want a list to take with me to the library, a guide so that I end up choosing books I’ve been wanting to read, rather than whatever I find. Yes, this probably means another year of not reading Ulysses, but I’m okay with that. You know that most of the people who claim to have read it have only read that one chapter anyway.


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