The tyranny of summer reading

I had big plans to get through my copious “to-read” piles/lists this summer, which are comprised of books I’ve been wanting to read. So far, I’ve barely made a dent. I’ve read a number of books for The Mindful Reader column, for a book club I enjoy, and for The Europa Challenge. I’ve mostly enjoyed what I’m reading, and enjoyed discovering books and authors new to me, but a sense of obligation has crept into my reading. Even the “to-reads” are beginning to feel like something I have to get through.

Many young people shopping at the independent bookstore where I work part-time share that sense of reading as an obligation. Most schools require summer reading. Some, like my son’s college, have a community-wide selection that everyone in the incoming freshman class or the campus reads. Others, like most of the local public and private schools in our area, offer lists for students to choose from.

I’ve always figured a list wasn’t so bad — at least students controlled their choices. But lately, because I’m reading books I’ve “chosen” from small subsets whose parameters are narrowed for me, I understand the limitations of lists. Although I have more freedom as an adult I empathize with kids who chafe at the tyranny of summer reading. I’ve told my own two teens they should read for their own pleasure as much as possible this summer.

Of course, I chose to write a book review column, join a discussion group, and set a reading challenge for myself.  But I’m going to try to rediscover the serendipity of reading something just because I want to, as I did for many summers as a child.