Make fun of the summer reading list all you want, students, but it’s a real thing, it serves a real purpose, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. (And while I know you didn’t ask, I’m personally spending the summer re-reading my old favorites, A.S. Byatt’s masterful Possession and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Neither makes for light “beach reading,” but they thrill my English major heart every time I turn their pages.)
As you while away your days with a part-time job, your equestrian activities, and time with friends and family, it’s important to maintain a steady stream of reading in your own summer schedule. Here’s why:
- It keeps your academic brain functioning. Sure you might be in an SAT or ACT prep course this summer or writing your application essays (which my students are in the thick of right now), but the exercise of reading pulls and stretches your brain in different directions (and entertains you at the same time). Summer brain drain is a real thing and can be largely avoided through the simple exercise of reading a book – and if you’re headed to college this fall, the chances are good you’ll be asked to read an entire novel or multiple chapters of multiple textbooks on your very first day of classes. Be ready to dive right in when the time comes and your first semester will be that much less stressful.
- It will come up in campus interviews or in application essays. As you proceed through the process of gaining admission to your chosen colleges, inevitably one or more of your prospects will seize an opportunity to ask you some variation of this question: “What are you reading right now?” and want to talk about it in-depth. As I’ve stated many times in this blog, college is a very reading-intensive place regardless of the major you intend to pursue and a lot of admission officers and faculty or alumni interviewers want to know about your reading habits to evaluate your candidacy. (Remember the advice from Bullet Point #1?) Be prepared for this question and have a quality answer ready that’s based on your own real experiences. Why did you read The Great Gatsby this summer and what did you think of it? Or why did you skip The Great Gatsby in favor of a James Patterson thriller? The ability to speak honestly and thoughtfully about your book choices can go a long way toward getting that acceptance letter.
- It can help improve your writing skills. Just as painters sometimes copy masterworks to learn old techniques they can apply to their own original creations and equestrians audit clinics with master riders to learn by seeing how professionals address common problems, you can absorb the language, imagery, and style exercised by various authors to help develop your own writing style. (Timely advice if you’re a senior working on an application essay right now, isn’t it?) Does your essay need to sound as though it was written by Harper Lee or William Shakespeare? Absolutely not. But the ability to write a solid, well-assembled essay that’s a step above one you might have turned in for a history class will pay off long after your applications are complete when your college classes require you to write lengthy papers that demonstrate mastery of the coursework.
Now students, please don’t think that you need to come up with the be all and end all, the Summer Reading List of DESTINY. No one will hold it against you if you don’t sit on the sidelines of a horse show reading the complete works of Jane Austen, nor will they frown if you go back to school or enter college this fall without having devoured A Tale of Two Cities, War and Peace, and Roots and written a hundred page thesis comparing and contrasting them. That isn’t what a summer reading list is designed to do and shouldn’t be your goal (unless you want to make it your goal…)
Instead, pick two or three books that interest you – books whose titles you recognize but you’ve never taken the time to read or books with an interesting premise that have been recommended by teachers or friends – and read them. Then take the time to think about them when you’re done – did the story appeal? Did you like the way it was told or not? Why? These are the sorts of questions interviewers will ask you and you’re much better off having an answer prepared than going off the cuff with, “It was okay – the main character was funny” or worse “My English teacher made me read it so I did.”
Still unsure where to begin? Here’s a list of 17 new titles entering the market very soon (including new stuff from Harper Lee!) that might whet your appetite for more reading after summer concludes. (You can also pick up a copy of my book or contact me for more reading suggestions or help with the college search.)
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a book waiting for me offline…