Younger me would never have stooped to reading anything but fiction or literature over the summer. As a student, of course, I spent much of the year reading what people told me to (with the caveat that I had some control over the classes I took). Summer was a time to read exactly what I wanted, which was a steady diet of classics and pulp like a literary salad. No biography—who needed real people when imagined ones were so much more interesting, and no non-fiction—does that even count as reading?
Now in my mid-40s, the reading lists are changing. There’s plenty of fiction, but more of it is modern (gasp—even contemporary—by LIVING authors), and I spend my days making connections from them to the past texts they make use of. And I am gratified that we keep re-using the same tropes and heroes. There’s a Young Adult Odyssey, for instance, called Love in the Time of Global Warming (a double homage—playing on Garcia-Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera as well) by Francesca Lia Block, as well as Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad and Carsten Jensen’s We, The Drowned, which also feels reminiscent of the Odyssey. We really can’t go forward without looking back, and all those years reading old stuff is paying off for me in spades.
What’s more interesting, perhaps because I didn’t see it coming, is the non-fiction. How much, after 22 years of teaching college English, I appreciate a well-wrought essay. How endlessly interesting the world is, right here and now, without going to Narnia or Middle Earth or the forest of my beloved fairy tales. How compelling research about the brain is, both for how I can teach better, and how I can learn better. It’s a big world, and I’m grateful for the time to give more of it my attention.
This summer’s reading list is a hodge-podge, then:
1. Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors because I haven’t read enough of his short fiction.
2. Al Franken’s Al Franken, Giant of the Senate because I’m more political than ever, and that means I really need a laugh.
3. Gabriel Wyner’s Fluent Forever because I’m determined to keep learning languages, and I can’t afford to move to Europe for five years.
4. Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad because just because I talked about it doesn’t mean I’ve read it.
5. George Orwell’s A Collection of Essays because damn, that guy could write.
6. Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain because apparently I now enjoy nature writing. Who knew?
7. Georges Perec’s A Void because any novel written without a single ‘e’ must be quite something.
8. Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower because John Green recommended it some time ago and I’ve never gotten around to it.
9. Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies because they are the basis for so much, and because his imperfect knowledge of Latin gives me hope. Best find at Kalamazoo this year!
10. Italo Calvino’s Palomar in Italian, because that is the point of learning Italian.
More will trickle in (certainly some murder mysteries, which are my pulp of choice), and some may well fall out. But that is the way of summer, as I experience it. What’s on your reading agenda?