“Summer Reads” is a tradition my friend and I have enjoyed for several years. We walk together almost every morning – we retired from education at the same time, me from a high school, she as principal of an elementary. We have walked for nearly 20 years, solving the problems of the world and talking about our reading. I’m a character reader and she’s a plot reader, so when we read the same book, we have very different insights.
Ten years or so ago we decided to read a classic each summer and discuss it as we walked her neighborhood or mine. We tried to choose books neither of us had read, and we tried to alternate a British author with an American one. Our first book was Ellison’s Invisible Man – a book my friend’s son challenged her to read with him. One summer we read Atlas Shrugged – a summer I was trapped in several airports with the opinionated Ms. Rand. We’ve read Moby Dick, Grapes of Wrath, The Gilded Age, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter…and others I forgot to chart in GoodReads. The year we read Mrs. Dalloway, I bought each of us a walking map of London, and we followed the characters’ travels on our maps. As readers, we wanted to know more. We both became frustrated with just reading the book and moving on, so we began to look for other works by the authors, or biographies, nonfiction pieces to help us understand the book and the author and the time.
One year we went to Paris and Spain with Ernest Hemingway, reading A Moveable Feast and The Sun also Rises, read several novels about him and his various wives. Mrs. Hemingway is one of my favorites, along with Hemingway’s Girl. We wallowed in all things Hemingway.
The next summer we read the Brontes…all three sisters: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Villette, Agnes Grey, and my new favorite, Tenant of Wildfell Hall. We read novels about the sisters, biographies, and collections of their letters. I’ve never set foot in Haworth, England, but it was one of my mother’s favorite places…I felt so close to my mom as I read about the doomed sisters whose lives might have been drab, but whose imaginations and hearts were rich beyond reckoning. Each of their books still has something important to say to modern women.
Last summer we followed F. Scott Fitzgerald and his self-destructive relationship with the beautiful Zelda. We reread The Great Gatsby, and read Tender is the Night, and found several nonfiction books that helped put their lives into perspective. Careless People centered around the Fitzgeralds, NYC, and a sensational murder set around the time of Gatsby. We read Sheila Graham’s son’s biography, Intimate Lies, which chronicled the end of Fitzgerald’s life. I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Last Tycoon. Zelda and her friend Tallula Bankhead were featured in Flappers. Romantic Egoists is a collection of all the scrapbook clippings and playbills and photos that the Fitzgeralds saved.
This summer we are rereading my favorite book: To Kill a Mockingbird. At first we made a rule that we would not reread books, but always find new titles for both of us. With the exception of Grapes of Wrath, which my friend had read, we shied away from books we’ve read…but with Hemingway and the Brontes and Fitzgerald, we’d already broken that rule, so we are happily rereading.
I recently bought a brand new paperback copy and reread it. While reading, I would post photos of some of my favorite lines to FaceBook. I was amazed at how many friends and former students responded, inspiring many conversations about the book. That rereading taught me the power of a reading community. I wrote about that rereading here.
We are spending the summer in Macomb County, Alabama, in anticipation of the release of Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set a Watchman, next month. This summer I am listening to the audible book, read by Sissy Spacek, with her warm drawl and deep understanding of the characters. I’m hearing things I’ve missed before. Calpurnia taught Scout to write…Scout and then Jem, and then Atticus all use the same words, “It’s not time to worry.” But Scout says the words first. We’ve searched for materials about the elusive Ms. Lee and the book. We will face the concerns about Ms. Lee being victimized by editors and publishers as those issues arise.
Our reading list is set:
I Am Scout
Scout, Atticus and Boo
Up Close, Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird, Threatening Boundaries
And of course: Go Set a Watchman.
How very lucky I am that I have a walking partner who’s shared a huge chunk of my professional life and personal life. A friend who shares books and authors, who loved to talk about books as much as I do, and who suggested, all those summers ago, that we spend our time with classics. I am richer for this.
So, I challenge you: What book or author do you want to know better? What book will you challenge yourself with? How will you grow as you read for pleasure and for enlightenment? What book will you be talking about when you return to school next fall? Let me know, so I can read it too.
In fact, do you want to join us in reading TKAM? We could do an online reading group! You wouldn’t have to come to Norman and walk with us in the mornings.