Books All Georgians Should Read

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Summer Reading: A Venerable Tradition

Summer reading. Ah, the time of loafing through light reading. Beach books. Settling into a hammock and letting the mind slip into cruise control with some guilty pleasures by Danielle Steel or Suzanne Collins or maybe Ken Follett. It’s been a tradition for … well, a heck of a lot longer than most of us probably imagine.

I came across a fascinating article the other day written by Craig Fehrman in The Boston Globe which I want to tell you a little about since the Globe doesn’t have much circulation in these parts. He writes that while we may think of the summer reading habit as recent — a likely invention of publishers to sell their books — way back in 1874 the Globe was urging its readers to take along books when they considered vacations. And the notion of vacations — which followed along with changing attitudes about work in the latter part of the 19th century — led to the idea of books being an essential part of time off from work. In his research, Fehrman tells us that as early as 1897 The New York Times was compiling a list of the 100 best summer books. And perhaps that resulted from librarians and teachers starting summer reading lists for the kids.

Fehrman — who deserves a lot of credit for digging up some intriguing information about this topic — writes that “by the start of World War I, summer reading was such an accepted and widespread practice that  “it no longer seemed worth squabbling over.” He quotes one book review writing in 1915 that “The summer, by our custom, is the time when one loafs.”

It could be argued, I suppose, that in the 21st century we seem to have entered a period when vacations are again edging toward extinction as people labor long in their jobs and seldom seem to take all of the vacation time they are allotted — or have finally landed a job after lengthy unemployment and have little opportunity for time off. And some of us who do vacation have always leaned toward the summer as a time of challenge: the time to face up to a book that I “ought” to read. Because of that, I’ve plowed through the likes of “Ulysses,” “The Sound and the Fury,” “The Ambassadors” and Proust (well, not all of Proust) in the hottest months and come away with a wonderful sense of accomplishment if not always a total sense of entertainment.

“Summer reading has come to offer an ideal space in the middle,” writes Fehrman, “equally accepted as a way to escaper the pressures of work or as a course in self-iprovement.” Agreed.

And as summer’s days wind down (though not temperatures in this part of the country), there’s no longer a need to be defensive about what your summer reading might be. Instead, Fehrman reminds us, “you can be pleased to be joining a venerable, beloved American tradition — the right to relax with a book in the sun.”

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