Summer reading is a term that catches my fancy every year. It calls to mind images of reading a good book on the beach or in a hammock, with a beverage at one’s side and without a care in the world. (Cue up Seals & Crofts, “Summer Breeze.”) Problem is, I don’t spend a lot of time on beaches, and the small yard of my three-unit condo building contains no hammock, at least the last time I looked.
Summer reading also conjures up a certain type of book, one that appears on erudite lists of, well, suggested summer reading. However, despite the photo above, I actually can’t tell you what staffers for The New Yorker have on their summer reading lists, because I took a quick look and realized that our tastes are, uh, different. But hey, it makes for a nice screenshot.
So what does summer reading mean to me? As an educator, it’s mostly about time to read books that I may put aside during a busy academic year, sometimes with a seasonal twist.
Earlier this week I finished David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers (2015). I’ve raved about it so many times to Facebook pals that probably half of them have unfriended me by now. It’s one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in recent memory. (For more extended praise, see this piece from my Minding the Workplace blog).
Perhaps McCullough has triggered a summer leaning towards Americana. I’m now reading Hattie’s War (2014), by Hilda and Emily Demuth, a historical novel for younger readers set during the American Civil War. Here’s how the Demuth sisters describe their book:
In 1864 Milwaukee, eleven-year-old Hattie Bigelow, who is more interested in baseball than in sewing circles and other women’s efforts to support the Union cause, loses her back yard to a garden for the new Soldiers’ Home and rebels against her family’s expectations in a society transformed by the Civil War.
Hilda is a dear friend going back to our student days at Valparaiso University. A high school English teacher and novelist, she gave me a copy of her latest when I met up with her and her family during their recent pitstop in Boston. The first clue that I’d like Hattie’s War comes right in the opening scene, with kids playing baseball. It contains a neat little detail revealing that the Demuth gals did their homework in understanding the vintage rules of the game. I can’t claim to be a young reader, but I’m enjoying the book a lot.
The baseball theme continues as well, in the form of John Feinstein’s Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball (2014). It profiles the lives of players, managers, and umpires in baseball’s highest level of minor leagues, called AAA or Triple-A.
Feinstein is one of our best sports chroniclers, and he’s done a great job of capturing both the ongoing draw of the game and the realities of professional baseball played one tantalizing, frustrating step short of the major leagues. So close, but yet so far certainly applies here.
Eventually my reading will break away from the North American continent. Later this summer, I’m presenting a paper at a law and mental health conference in Vienna, Austria. I’ll want to read up on a city that I haven’t seen since a quick visit during my collegiate semester abroad. In addition to a travel guidebook or two, I’m considering crime novels by Frank Tallis (A Death in Vienna, 2005) and J. Sydney Jones (The Empty Mirror, 2009), set in the turn of the last century.
Because I am somewhat undisciplined and impulsive when it comes to pleasure reading, this is not the last word on the matter. At least one of Stephen King’s recent books will likely enter the picture, and maybe one of Alan Furst’s atmospheric thrillers set in WWII-era Europe.
There’s one book, a big bestseller right now, that I’ve been carrying around but just can’t seem to crack: Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2014). It’s about the “Japanese art of decluttering and organizing,” a talent that I’ve managed to avoid despite my Japanese heritage. Especially when it comes to work, I tend to be the type who creates order from, and makes sense of, what may appear to be cluttered pieces. Alas, this can produce ferocious piles of books and papers, and I’m not good at tossing. Whatever.