Summer Reading: No list? How, and What, Do You Read?

Summer reading: What does it involve? Almost every independent school produces a summer reading list, has a summer reading requirement, and has some type of student evaluation upon arrival to school in the fall. If there is no list, then what can we do?

As an English teacher, I don’t want to produce yet another list of recommended readings. Rather - given the proven benefits of reading - I will suggest only this (to students and parents): Read and read widely.
How will you read? How to read is the argument that I want to put forth. When you read during the summer, don’t just read quickly or because you are required to do so, read for information, for improvement, and for fun. Practice the craft of reading. Work to make yourself a better reader. Become involved in what you are reading. “I already know how to read.” I can hear the refrains. My reply: “We don’t always read well.” Reading well takes practice - lots of practice. We often read too quickly when working to make a deadline or to complete a requirement. We don’t like the subject, so we skim. Or, sometimes it’s easier to watch television or listen to the radio.

Certainly watching television and listening to the radio are easier. We sit - watching and listening - while the program (journalistic or entertaining in nature) feeds us through our eyes and our ears. We don’t do much.

If the program moves us, we might think about it for a while, jot a note about it, or, if moved, write a letter to the station, network, or program. Generally, our interaction with the presenter, and our thoughts about the subject, are not necessary; they are not a regular part of our radio and television experience. Passivity rules. We often leave critical thinking and involvement out of our reading. Therein lies our problem and, hence, my argument today.

Change the Way You Read During the Summer
Here are my suggestions:

Read with a pencil in your hand - not a highlighter, not a pen - but, with a pencil and a notebook. I suspect that you’ll write too much at first. But, with practice, you’ll find your personal balance.

Think with your pencil in hand.

Keep track of arguments and events as you read.

Note your thoughts; is everything making sense?

Tie ideas and events together. Where is the plot going? Does the structure of the piece make a shape?

Is there sound evidence? Notice when the author leaves something uncovered or hanging. Are there any obvious biases?

What is the author’s - or the narrator’s -viewpoint? Is the narrator reliable? Are the plot and the implicit argument advancing or supporting a larger idea or position?

For fiction, this is where I always ask, “So what’s this novel/story really about?” What ideas are addressed? What are the central ideas, around which the plot is wrapped? You get the idea. Ask questions about the ideas and events before you. How is the author shaping and handling the events? Reading, whether fiction or non-fiction, is about ideas.

Now, what to read
Anything (within reason). If you’re not a regular reader, start with shorter pieces.

I’m a non-fiction reader. I love current events analyses. Great newspapers and news magazines serve as excellent gateways to good writing and critical thinking. Try non-fiction pieces from magazines, such as the New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Atlantic Monthly. Sports Illustrated also produces consistently good writing. Try an anthology of short stories. If fiction is your love, try novels – both short and long.

Each Sunday, read the New York Times Book Review. Visit your public library. Librarians are great sources. There’s no shortage of good writing. But, you must commit to searching, finding, and reading.

In short
Read and practice reading.