Memorial Day is when summer starts on my psychological calendar. So, I’m putting together this year’s summer reading list. Here’s how I do it and the story behind the method.
My father was a Lutheran pastor, and a pastor’s life is a busy one. It’s filled with sermon preparations, visits to church members at home and at work, and meetings of all kinds. My father was a voracious reader. Even with his demanding schedule, 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 in July. 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 my father 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. Sometimes, it was a “big thinking” kind of book. Usually, he practically inhaled books, but he approached a big thinking book differently. 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.
Sometimes the “always wanted to read” book was 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.
This year my “always-wanted-to-read” book is Philip Tetlock’s Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction. I’ve read references to Tetlock’s work for years. This summer I’ll go to the source.
Choose Something to Read for Fun
My father’s reading for fun often 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
.This year, I’ll read a few more C. J. Box mysteries. I’ll probably read a couple of novels. I’m especially looking forward to The Lincoln Highway: a Novel by Amor Towles. I loved his earlier book, A Gentleman in Moscow.
Choose a Pump-Priming Book
My father tried to read a 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 or that really stretches your brain.
To make my selection, always reach out to friends who read a lot and think about what they read. This year I reached out to Terry Moore, Bruce Rosenstein, Art Petty, Stephen Lynch, and Suzi McAlpine. They’ve pointed me to great books in the past. I haven’t decided yet what the pump-priming book will be, so there’s till time for you to share your recommendation.
I’ll get lots of recommendations. Many of the ones that don’t become this summer’s pump-priming book will become books I read later.
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.
This summer I’ll reread Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi by Howard Gardner. I read it the first time shortly after it came out in 1993. I was on a team developing a course in creativity and innovation for a major oil company at the time.
When I work on my summer reading list, I use a worksheet similar to the one you can download here.
What will you be reading this summer?
Do you have any suggestions for me about what I should read?