Vacation Reading

As I’m writing this post, I am happily into the second day of Spring Break for my campus. (By the time you read this, I will be back to work shaping young minds.)  This small respite, desperately needed, has got me thinking about vacation reading plans. Every year, I make an somewhat ambitious plan to read a lot of books over the summer break, and yet I never manage to read more than a few books, say two or three. There are many reasons for this, I’ve come to realize.

  1. I am an exceedingly slow reader. Not that I am incapable of reading more quickly, but I tend to read in fits and starts, around other activities in my day, rather than a sustained devouring of a book over a whole afternoon. My process makes getting through an entire book rather slow. (Ask me how long I’ve been reading Nixonland.)
  2. Graduate school really killed my ability to enthusiastically attack a book and read it hungrily until the wee hours of the morning. I remember fondly my childhood and teenaged reading habits, when I once thought about inventing a device that would allow me to read books while taking a shower. Once I got to graduate school, the reading load was so heavy and so dense and the pace so quick, that I no longer enjoyed reading as much. I wasn’t really reading texts I chose, of course, and when I did have time to read something on my own, my brain (and not to mention my eyes) were just too fried to pick up that fun paperback. This is not to whine or criticize the workload I had in grad school; rather, it is just a statement of plain fact about my experience. And, now that I think about it, is probably why I have the problem listed in #1.
  3. Probably related to #2, I tend to get really drowsy when reading. I have no clue why this is, but sit me down with a nice book on the couch, and guaranteed before 20 minutes pass, I will be snoozing away.
  4. I have so much reading and re-reading to do in my job that extra reading on top of that tends to take a backseat.
  5. Oh, right! I have to work over the summer, so I am usually still teaching during the summer “break.”

Having said all that, it still doesn’t stop me from trying. But actually choosing which books to read can be a whole separate issue on its own. When talking with a historian friend (who does much more pleasure reading than I do) about what we liked to read in our “spare” time, we noticed something interesting. She, a scholar of 20th c American history, likes to read as much fiction as possible for fun. I, a scholar of (broadly speaking) 20th c American literature, like to read non-fiction for fun. We realized we both gravitate toward the opposite of our own work when we can choose a book to read. And it’s true–a fiction book will certainly tax the literary critic part of my brain in a way that the latest Lawrence Wright book won’t, so that’s more fun for me.

And so, I find myself lining up books for my summer reading list and laughing a bit at my hubris. How in the world do I expect to actually read all these? I think there’s something to be said for the attempt, even if I fail; after all, the books will still be there come September, or, more realistically, come next summer.


So, what’s on your reading list, friends? I’ve started mine below, no doubt with more titles to come–and it’s a blend of fiction and non-fiction. Any further suggestions?

Castor, Helen. Joan of Arc: A History

Coleman, Isobel. Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East

Fink, Sheri. Five Days at Memorial

McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian

Percy, Jennifer. Demon Camp: A Soldier’s Exorcism

Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things

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