A Summer Classic

by Martha Rust

What comes to mind when you think of summer? Probably a whole list of things: long days, endless blue skies, beaches, travel, sandals, watermelon, and blackberry pie. That’s the list that first pops into my mind, but it could easily go on (and on): bicycling, canoeing, hiking, beautiful long sunsets– and broad vistas of all kinds. That’s the thing about summer: even though it’s no longer than any other season, summer time stretches out spaciously in a person’s mind: lazy, hazy, crazy, and full of possibilities.[1] Such a wealth of possibilities could stir a person to make a list, and summer has its share of them: lists of favorite summer recipes, lists of top summer destinations, the list of ten essentials for hiking, featured on this blog almost a year ago, to name just a few.

But the classic summer list, the list that truly announces summer, the list that every newspaper and magazine worth its salt publishes every year, is the summer reading list. Why summer, though, for reading? Why fill summer’s extra daylight hours with reading? Wouldn’t a winter reading list make more sense, with its prospect of cozying up with a book and a nice mug of herbal tea or hot chocolate? More sensible, possibly, but perhaps summer is a better match for our experience of reading. In the stretched out time of summer, there seems to be more time for reading, and the world of a book can stretch and bend that time even more. Reading, like an ideal summer, can also take us to distant times and places, giving us new and different horizons.

And perhaps it’s not just reading that’s like summer; maybe the list form itself reflects our idea of summer, for simply browsing through a summer reading list calls the season to mind in all its possibilities. The following is a short list of them for sampling the effect (and for anyone who has not yet compiled one of their own):

Elisabeth Egan, “Text on the Beach: Great Summer Reads,” New York Times, 7 July 2019.

Troy Patterson, “What We’re Reading this Summer,” The New Yorker, 4 June 2019.

“Summer reading — 100 best holiday books for 2019,” The Guardian, 29 June 2019.

Estelle Tang, “The 30 Best Books to Read this Summer,” Elle, 15 May 2019.

Laura Hampson, “The Best New Books to Add to Your Summer Reading Lists”, Evening Standard, 11 May 2019.

Emma Lee Porter, “15 Best New Books to Read on Your Summer Holiday”, The Independent, 18 June 2019.

Erika Berlin et al., “The Mental Floss Summer Reading List: 27 Books to Read in Summer 2019”, The Mental Floss, 12 June 2019.

“Summer Books 2019: TLS Contributors on Their Seasonal Reading Lists”, The Times Literary Supplement, 18 June 2019.

Though summer also passes and all too soon, likely leaving many of the books on a person’s summer reading list still unread, the beauty of a reading list is that a person can enjoy summer’s pleasures by continuing to read through it until summer comes again.


[1] I allude, of course, to the song “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer,” which was adapted from “Du speielst ‘ne tolle Rolle” by Hans Bradtke and Hans Carste. The English lyrics were written by Charles Tobias and first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1963.

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