Summer Reading: Lessons from my father’s reading plan

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My father was a Lutheran pastor, and a pastor’s life is a busy one. It’s filled with sermon preparations and visits and meetings of all kinds. Even with his hectic schedule, my father was a voracious reader. He normally read two or three books a week. Some reading was related to his work as a pastor. He also loved history and biography. His escape reading was mysteries, lots of them.

When summer came, things slowed down. My parents sent my sister and me away to camp. That left them with the house and all of New York City as their playground.

August was the month for our family vacation. We’d rent a car for the month and stuff it full of everything we thought we might need. I remember sitting in the back seat with my sister, surrounded by all the things that wouldn’t fit into the trunk. We drove several hours to a cabin near where several of my parents’ friends vacationed. Before we left, my father put together his “reading plan” for the summer.

He knew that his vacation month would be filled with naps and pinochle games. He knew that he would read, much as he always did. He also knew that summer was the time for him to read some different things. That’s what a lot of us do in the summer. Here’s how he chose what to read.

Read Something You’ve Always Wanted to Read

There was always one book that my father had wanted to read and not gotten around to. Usually, it was a “big thinking” kind of book. I remember that he often read it a little bit at a time so that he also had time to reflect on what he had read before moving on.

That was very different than his normal way of reading, where he seemed to inhale books. The “always wanted to read” book was usually on a subject he knew well. One summer he read the collected sermons of the Scottish theologian, Peter Taylor Forsyth. Some summers he read a particularly intriguing novel. For your summer reading, choose one book you’ve always wanted to read and take the time to read it.

Choose Something to Read for Fun

My father’s reading for fun usually meant reading several books by the same author. Most of the time those collections were fiction, like the year he chose James Michener. Choose something that’s fun to read this summer.

Choose a Pump-Priming Book

My father tried to read one book every summer that was outside his usual range of reading. He got ideas about what that might be from asking people what great books they had read recently. One summer, he read a book on post-war German church architecture. Another year, he read about the painter Paul Gauguin. The topics were all over the map, but the one thing they had in common was that they were not the kinds of books my dad usually read. He felt that reading one good “pump-priming” book every year or so helped you stay fresh and creative. Choose a book on something you never read about.

How I’m Using what I Learned from Dad

I learned a lot from my father, including how to pick books for summer reading. But, I can’t leave well enough alone, and so, I’ve added a fourth choice to his three. Every year, I want to reread a great book that I’ve read in the past.

Here are my picks for what I’m going to be reading this summer. You may use them as starting points for your own choices.

For a book that I’ve always wanted to read, I choose The Three-Legged Stool by Roland S. Boreham. Jeff Hubert from Baldor Electric Motor, where Boreham was CEO and Chairman, sent me this book about a decade ago.

For fun, I’m going to read some science fiction. I haven’t decided what yet, so recommendations are welcome.

My pump-priming book the carpets of the world. The best pump-priming for me is to read something from the visual or performing arts. I’ve collected a few books on carpets from nearby used bookstores.

I’m going to re-read Max DePree’s classic: Leadership is an Art.

That’s my plan. What will you be reading this summer?

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

Ken Downer   |   12 Jun 2017   |   Reply

I like how you’ve laid this out, especially the Pump-priming idea. Yesterday at the book store I picked up “Lion” (Brierley – fun to read), just finished “Salt – a World History” (Kurlansky – Pump-primer) and plan to get to “5 Dysfunctions of a Team” this summer (Wanted to read); gave “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” (Covey) as a graduation gift last week, might take your tip and re-read that one.

Haven’t read much science fiction, but did really like Starship Troopers and Ender’s Game.
Thanks for the post!

Wally Bock   |   12 Jun 2017   |   Reply

Thanks for the kind words. Dad gets credit for everything except the re-read. Salt would be an always-wanted-to-read for me. Thanks for the reminder. Thanks for the recommendation of Ender’s Game. I haven’t read that and it would surely fit the bill. 5 Dysfunctions of a Team is really good, and so is 7 Habits. Every time I dip into the latter I’m amazed at how much practical wisdom Covery packed into that book.

Kevin Pebley   |   12 Jun 2017   |   Reply

Thanks for sharing. I like the idea of specifically identifying the “want to read” and the re-read. My “want to read” is Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and my pump-primer is “Leonardo’s Notebooks”. My re-read will likely be “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth” by John Maxwell. My “fun” read I’m already finishing up, and I have several new releases on ore-order for later this fall, so I’ll skip that for now.

As for sci-fi suggestions, I’ve tended to move towards the fantasy side over the years, but look at “Her Brother’s Keeper” by Mike Kupari.

Wally Bock   |   13 Jun 2017   |   Reply

Thanks for sharing, Kevin. Those sound like great choices. Let me suggest that, in addition to The Art of War, you read Warfighting. It’s as short as The Art of War but gives a western and present-day perspective on the same issues. Thanks for recommending Her Brother’s Keeper.

Rachel Stones   |   14 Jun 2017   |   Reply

I like your recommendations, Dads sure can inspire us, huh? I’ll have to add a pump-priming book to my list and review my 100+ list of “to-read” books to pick out some for the other categories. And I second Ken Downer’s recommendation of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” for your science fiction category.

Wally Bock   |   14 Jun 2017   |   Reply

Thanks Rachel. If you haven’t already read it, let me suggest Team of Teams. I thought it was powerfully insightful on many fronts. And, thanks to you and Kan, I’ve chose Ender’s Game to start myty sci-fi reading.