Every summer, Queen Anne Book Company creates a large in-store display featuring the summer reading books for the middle school just blocks from the store. We love discussing the selections with the school’s fantastic librarian. We delight in helping the rising sixth, seventh, and eighth graders pick their books from the extensive list. It’s particularly gratifying when students follow through on a series that they start early in the summer to fulfill a requirement; when they come back in for book #2 and book #3, we know that they aren’t just doing their homework and meeting expectations– they are hooked on reading.
My first assigned summer reading was the summer before sixth grade. I still remember the combination of excitement and anxiety. We had to read specific books, but I don’t remember being told what we’d have to do with them once the school year started. Because sixth grade was the beginning of middle school, I figured academic standards would be high. I expected quizzes, maybe even tests. I thought I would need to remember all the details for discussion (and oh god, tests!) in the fall. I knew I wanted to read as many books for fun as I could get through from the library, but I was sure I’d get confused. So I kept a chapter by chapter reading log as I worked my way through The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Tale of Troy, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader for Mrs. Penny’s sixth grade English.
What I wouldn’t give to find that spiral notebook again! I remember dutifully writing down the names of all the characters. I recall listing major events from every chapter. I also am reminded of a sense of satisfied diligence mixed with overwhelmed distress. Would I never be able to enjoy an assigned book again? Would middle school suck all the joy out of literature? How would I ever get through high school? Or college?
Of course I had over-prepared. Of course I had stressed over something that wasn’t supposed to be stressful. But middle school summer reading helped me learn how to balance the responsibilities of reading with the pleasures of reading. Although it has been decades since I was a student, I do feel accountable as a buyer and as a bookseller, and I still keep a reading journal to help me recollect key points about books.
When I think of “summer reads,” I go in two directions: I turn to the light and easy-to-digest books– the literary equivalent of cucumber sandwiches or ice cream for dinner (Cinnamon and Gunpowder, Gameboard of the Gods, The House at the End of Hope Street, Half Bad), but I also gravitate toward some challenging reads. I flash back to summers before summer jobs, when I had all day in a hammock and “had to” read something that pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and it makes me want to put together a little summer syllabus for myself, like If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler with Cloud Atlas, maybe followed by S. and The Odyssey.
What is your summer reading style? Any favorites from your past? Ones you’re looking forward to this summer?
Tegan Tigani is a bookseller and the children’s book buyer for Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle as well as the editor for nwbooklovers.org. A lounge chair, a stack of books, ice cream for dinner, time to read, and plenty of sunscreen would make her very happy every summer, even though she hates the heat.