This year, summer officially starts on June 21. Maybe you think it “really” starts earlier, on Memorial Day. That’s the start of “psychological summer” for me. Either way, summer will be here soon. It’s time to make up your 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. Every year he read one book in each of the following three categories.
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.
Something You’ve Always Wanted to Read
There was always one book that my father had wanted to read and had 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 summer I’m going to read at least one of three novels I’ve always wanted to read. They are Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian, and My Antonia by Willa Cather.
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 fun to read this summer.
This summer I’m going to do something different. Instead of reading a fun book, I’m going to poke around on YouTube and watch whatever catches my fancy.
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-World War II 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.
This summer I’ll read Outlive The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia MD and Bill Gifford.
Re-Read a Great Book
I learned a lot from my father, including how to pick books for summer reading. But I can’t leave well enough alone, 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 is always a tough pick.
This summer I will re-read The Fifth Discipline. It was published more than thirty years ago, but it continues to have a major effect on how we run organizations and imagine the world.
I start working on my summer reading list early so I’m ready to read when summer really begins on Memorial Day. I use a worksheet similar to the one you can download here.
What will you be reading this summer?
What great books have you read that others may want to read this summer?