How I loved the moment at the end of spring when our homeroom teacher would pass out the summer reading list. I clutched those mimeographed lists, wanting to read every title on. At home, I’d make a little check next to the books I’d already read, feeling a little cheated if the required books were already ones I had read. Summer meant hours and hours free to read.
I have always been a reader, cannot remember a time when reading was not my drug of choice. During the school year, I often read too late in bed, stuffing the book underneath my covers and promising Mom I was ready to turn out the light. But in summer, no one minded if I read all day long. I’d wake and read in bed. I’d fall asleep with books open, scattered across the coverlet — sometimes, I jumped between stories, not wanting one to end too soon. Even outdoors, I always had a book with me. I read in a little fort of pine trees; I read on the porch, perched on the back steps, in the hammock, by the lake.
Summer reading was pure pleasure. We spent summers at our grandparents’ house, far away from any library, so before we left in June, my mother let me load up an armful of paperbacks at the Ardmore Paperback Bookshop. Once at Grannie’s I rationed the Dell Yearling novels, alternating them with musty volumes I found on Grannie’s shelves — historical novels and classics and old volumes of fairy tales and folk tales and myths. Aunt Rita, our next-door neighbor, let me browse her shelves, too, and borrow what I liked. It was she who introduced me to Anne of Green Gables one summer — the whole series! Someday, I promise myself, I will go to Prince Edward Island and look for Anne and Marilla and Diana and Gilbert.
As a young teenager, babysitting one night, I made my way through Anne Morrow Lindberg’s Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead and was so nervous that my little charges might be kidnapped that I sat in the dark outside their room listening for potential intruders. The summer before eighth grade, I read both Rebecca and Jane Eyre, suspicious of every clap of thunder, every unexplained creak in our old wooden house. The power went out and I read by candlelight imagining Bertha imprisoned in our attic. I felt the same way recently reading World of Curiosities by Louise Penny — it was as if the characters had climbed inside me, infecting me. I had to finish that book in the middle of the living room, conversation eddying around me, to stay calm enough to keep reading!
Reading, for me, is about escaping into story. I love encountering landscapes — both new and unfamiliar. I collect characters, imagine them cartwheeling about in my head. Reading is about losing myself in other worlds and finding myself, too. Because I read quickly, sometimes, I have to slow down my pace because I don’t want a story to end. Reading is discovery, contemplation, curiosity, joy.
Crowdsourcing Summer Reading
These days, summer gives me a chance to catch up on what the girls in my school are reading. The fourth grade introduced me to Ms. Rapscott’s Girls and The War that Saved My Life and The Vanderbeeker Series. In ninth-grade English, we talk about our reading plans for the summer. The voracious readers and I swap titles; they encourage me to read more Fantasy; I loan them Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Lessons in Chemistry and Firekeeper’s Daughter. The girls in eighth grade invited me to read The Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and I loved it.
“There are two more, Ms. Klotz,” Emma says, grinning. “You’ve got to read them, too.”
As the school year ends, I make a list on my phone of the books my kids love and try to read as many of them as I can.
Each year, my friend, Diane, crowdsources a summer reading list for pleasure; I look forward to her email and scan it fast to see if any of my recent favorites have made the list.
Summer offers also offers me time to reflect on my leadership. I consider the year that has finished and set an intention and goals for the coming year. I find myself balancing fiction and memoir with “work” reading — the pile of books in my den that I’ve acquired but haven’t yet spent time with. I enjoy slipping between pure pleasure and books that help me in my work as a Head of School. Summer reading for school can be a source of inspiration and affirmation. We always learn more about ourselves when we read about others who lead and love. I, too, put out a recent call for books to my friends who lead schools. This year’s recommendations include:
· So. Fast. The Year of No Do Overs by Mary Louise Kelly
· Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman
· From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur C. Brooks
· Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving by Celeste Headlee
· The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman and Kaley Klemp
So, when summer finally arrives — after the 100 days of May finally wrap up and the graduates are launched — I will stow as many books as I can cram into tote bags into the back of the car. I’ll include an assortment of pleasure reading and work reading to gorge on, forgiving myself in advance if I don’t get to all the titles I’ve packed. Driving to Pennsylvania for a few weeks of down time, I’ll remember that little girl who could hardly see over the stack of paperbacks she was so excited to explore. Early each morning, I will open a new book and slip into a story. In the afternoon, I’ll sip an iced coffee, gaze out at the lake, and read about leadership.
Summer — leisure, lazy afternoons, a lighter schedule — is better with books.