Required Reading

Every year, at the last all-school Mass at my Catholic elementary and middle school, the priest gave the same homily. It was a sermon meant to send dozens of antsy schoolchildren into the unstructured months of summer with some final lessons that might stick. They were words of wisdom like: pray every day, get outdoors and don’t park in front of the television, help your mom and dad around the house, and read books. Recently, in the final month of my freshman year of college, I heard similar wise words (somewhat adapted) directed towards a bunch of my fellow college students. I thought it was kind of funny that similar summertime advice could be applied to a third-grader bounding into a wide-open summer and a high school or college student whose summer had two jobs, three family vacations, and weekly activities with friends. But for as long as we are students, the truth remains that during the school year, we’re going a million miles an hour (about the speed required to exit the milky way galaxy in a spaceship, incidentally) and there’s a significant speed differential when we pass into the time warp that is summer. Don’t let all that extra time you have be applied loosely to Netflix binge-watching, Mario-karting, or sitting inside with the shades down and the AC up, gazing at the wall with a vacant, dead-eyed expression. It’s a beautiful day out there!

While all the things people will tell you to do in the summer are quite important—spend time outside, wear lots of sunscreen, help out around the house, exercise, eat salads and whole grain bread... I’d like to present to you one important item that may not be most important, but, perhaps, most ignored: Reading. Sure, we do it every day, whether it be stop signs or textbooks, Facebook feeds or articles online, but I’m talking about books.

Seriously! Pick up something by C.S. Lewis, if you’re feeling like a very rewarding challenge. The Screwtape Letters was the first book that made me look up after every other line and ponder the mysteries of the universe and the greatness of God. Maybe take the classic route—Dandelion Wine, for example, is a book in which the simple joys of summertime themselves have been compressed purely and wonderfully between the pages. Start a book club! My good friend and fellow blog contributor Grace Schoenle and I started a very tiny book club (there was just the two of us) in order to read one book a week and have good excuses to get together at cute coffee shops and talk about things vaguely book-related. Sure, we lived forty minutes apart and it didn’t always work out, but it was lots of fun and not dry or stuffy at all. The point is, whether you’re already a voracious consumer of literary material or not, books can often be big ways we learn about the world, ourselves, our faith, and grow. Don’t read for a grade or a test or a book report, read for the pleasure of discovery and learning, and for the adventure of immersing yourself in a different world. If you want to spend some of your summertime building yourself up with things good and true and holy, I highly recommend a good old-fashioned book.

What books would you recommend for summer reading and why? Comment below!