Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 22: Chicago Summer Solstice Countdown

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.
-Anna Quindlen 
"Enough Book Shelves," New York Times, 7 August 1991

As a young child, one element of summer I can remember being as prominent and important as swimming, soaking up rays of sunshine and grilling outiside was reading. I remember my mother always taking my brother and I routinely to the library where we participated in the summer reading program. The program required us to read a certain quantity of books from a variety of genres in order to win stamps on board games (aka, a kid friendly book log). The stamps would later lead to stickers and other treasured knick knacks qualifying as prizes in the eyes of children.

Despite the level of sophistication of the program or its prizes, I always deeply enjoyed this annual event. An event that encouraged me to get lost among the book shelves for hours, as I reveled in the possibilities of new naratives and characters that would captivate me for the next week or two.

As I grew older, my district school sent out summer reading lists. When I first started receiving these lists, recommendations were common and requirements were few.  But as I grew in maturity and grade level the freedom to choose was squashed. A one to two page letter fraught with a small list of required titles and book report guidelines would be mailed to my home. I never viewed these lists negatively. They were merely another fact of my sheltered suburban American life, like breathing air, eating dinner and riding in my mother's mini van.

As I reflect upon childhood library adventures and carefully constructed book reports, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I am grateful to have a mother who cared about her children's education and had the time to take us on weekly library trips. I am grateful for all the enthusiastic children's librarians who put together the programs and met me each week with smiles as they looked over my board games with approval. I am grateful to have lived in a place during a time in history where I could have easy access to a building full of great books free of charge.

In the novel I most recently finished, The Help, the setting is Jackson, Mississippi. The time period is the 1960s. Skeeter, a twenty-three year old white girl, becomes friendly with an older black maid named Aibleen because of a weekly column she writes for the local paper. As their friendship blossoms and conversations become increasingly honest, Aibleen is forced to remind Skeeter that she does not have access to the library because of the color of her skin.

Aibleen's words, "You know colored folks ain't allowed in that library," forced me to place the book on my lap for a few moments. The thought of not having access to commonplace books and information became an increasingly disturbing thought. My mind began jumping rapidly between thoughts as I reflected upon how different life would be if it were void of diverse reading experiences.

Therefore, as I increase the number of lazy days I spend wrapped up in novels, books of poetry and essays this summer, I hope I can remember to cultivate a sense of gratitude. I hope I can remember not to take for granted the works of authors who enrich my life so deeply.

The first texts I will be reading this summer include Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, Bossypants by Tina Fey and Wilderness Volume 1 --The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison (poetry). I would love to know what you're reading this summer so I can add to my list! Leave comments below!!


  1. I, too, spent a vast majority of childhood with my nose buried in a book (I distinctly remember a road trip through the Smokey Mountains with my parents yelling at me to STOP reading and actually look up at the scenery). I've been going back and re-reading some old favorites this summer - "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle being chief among them - it always amazes me how I can get so much out of something I've already read two or three (or four or five) times. I think that's because each time we go back hopefully /we've/ changed a little in the interim, so we bring something new to the experience and maybe see or understand things in a different way. That's the power of literature - the words may be static but we aren't, so the experience isn't either.

    P.S. Love that you put Ender's Game on top of your post, that's probably my favorite piece of fiction ever written. We'll have to have geeky sci-fi conversations sometime about the sequels.

  2. I love this post. You've been getting a bit more personal with these, and that makes for good reading. The experiences, and your reflections on those experiences, give me a lot to think about. So thank you for that.

    As for my summer reading list, it looks something like this:

    Continue to re-read "Division Street: America" from Studs Terkel. And to continue reading the 2007 edition of "The Best American Essays". I also want to read "The Auto-Biography of Miles Davis" and "This Side of Brightness" by Colum McCann.

    And I'm looking forward to getting your thoughts on "Dandelion Wine". That book has summer bursting out of every page! Enjoy!

  3. I like this quote, and it seems to fit into this post:

    "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." - Mark Twain

  4. Love the comments!

    Ender's Game was one of my favorite books I read in high school. I reread it about a year ago and didn't love it quite as much. I was a bit sad about that since I had a great attachment to it. As for the sequels... I never read them because people so often told me they were horrible. People told me I shouldn't ruin the magic of the 1st book. I have a feeling I have a date with the sequels at some point in time despite those comments... I'll have to get your opinion on those Jonas.

    Chris, so far I'm enjoying Dandelion Wine. I'm amazed at how someone can describe summer so vividly. I almost wish I had read it before I started this countdown because I think I would have some different ideas and language I would use in my posts. Also-- I'm hoping to start reading Working at some point this summer... so we'll have to get geeky and talk about Studs some time =)

    Also, the Mark Twain quote is spot on.

    Again thanks for the comments!!! Keep them coming =)


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