Sitting on the eve of summer, are you dreaming of lazy days lying on the dock or curled up in a hammock with a fun beach read by your side?
Summertime is notoriously paired with the lighter side of reading: frivolous heroines, rom-coms, and nothing more challenging than trying to get past the first chapter as the gentle rhythm of the waves lulls you into dreamland. It’s almost like our ability to think checks out in the heat.
No, my friends, I am here to burst that picture of summer bliss. I am here to tell you to throw that stale-dated idea out the window, to picture instead summer as the perfect opportunity to reach for something higher, to stimulate your intellect, to enjoy the time to tackle something weighty and meaningful. In short, I am here in praise of long, slow reads.
I’m not the first to observe that at a time when most of us monitor some sort of news feed for most of the day — be it an actual news feed, a social media stream or something else along those lines — our ability to concentrate on longer, more demanding writing seems to be shrinking. That’s my own experience, anyway. Our ability to focus on one thing and pay attention to it is like a muscle that doesn’t get as much of a work out as it once did, unlike our ability to scan.
So, when I feel like all I’m doing is scanning during the day, I switch up my usual pleasure reading habits and take on a longer, more demanding project — something that requires a lot of my attention and isn’t a quick read. Getting started on this type of reading is the hardest part, since it feels like such a different experience than most of the reading (scanning) I do during the day. But once I make it over that initial hump, I’m usually hooked.
I encourage you take on these long, slow reads during the summer when you might have a bit more time and attention to devote to it. Often, I use it as an opportunity to read a classic of some description, since making my way through older English grammar and punctuation is enough to slow me down from my usual quick pace of reading. Here are some recommendations for you.
War and Peace by Tolstoy
Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
The Ambassador by Henry James
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
Being and Nothingness by Jean Paul Sartre
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Middlemarch by George Eliot
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
When other people pick up light beach reading for the summer, why not grab something wise and meaty? Dazzle your friends and coworkers when you tell them you tackled the good works of Tolstoy or Melville. They may look at you as though you’re crazy, but rest assured, my friends, you have the weight of countless generations of intellects on your side.
I'm taking a break from blogging this summer to travel and spend time with my to-be-read piles of books. I hope you have an amazing summer filled with friends, good food, family (if you like them!), and of course, many great reads. Shoot me a line if you find a book or an author this summer you think I should know about, or even if you just want to say hi.
I hope to have a bunch of books to review and am excited to discover emerging and established writers. Fingers crossed, I might even get some of my own writing done!
And in the meantime, happy reading!