anthony trollope

The Joys of Summer Reading

The Joys of Summer Reading

Our Book Nerd is still recovering from vacation, so we’re revisiting her thoughts on the long, lovely stretches of reading time that defined her childhood summers. Stay tuned for an extra-extra long Library Chicken update!

These days I read in bits and pieces. 􏰳􏰮I take a book with me everywhere I go, so I can grab 15 minutes while I’m waiting in the dentist, or 10 minutes waiting in the car for the kids to finish class. (I’d read at stoplights if I could.) Our family readaloud time can also get fragmented. We have a strict policy of reading together every night—except when dinner plans didn’t go as planned and we eat an hour later than normal, or someone isn’t feeling well, or we had a rough day homeschooling and my readaloud voice is shot, or whatever. On those nights we might cut our reading time in half, or forgo it altogether in favor of a group viewing of the latest episode of So You Think You Can Dance.

It sometimes feels like my reading progress can be measured in paragraphs instead of pages, so this time of year, I think back with longing to my childhood summers, when I could read uninterrupted for hours at a stretch. I’d pick the thickest books I could find, or check out every book in a series and stack them up beside me, devouring them like potato chips. With few distractions, I could get absorbed in a book in a way that’s much more difficult for me today. I can remember exactly where I was sitting in my grandmother’s living room, heart pounding, as Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet blew my mind. Another time I was reading science fiction in the hammock on the porch at home and suddenly looked up, startled and alarmed at the idea that I was outside breathing open air—until I remembered that I was on planet Earth and the air was okay to breathe.

A while ago, I was talking with a friend I’ve known since third grade (we bonded over The Chronicles of Narnia) and I said that while I was enjoying reading The Lord of the Rings with my kids, it was a much different experience from reading it on my own, on the long summer days, when I didn’t do much of anything but hang out in Middle Earth and worry about Ringwraiths. “I wish I’d been able to do that,” my friend said wistfully. I didn’t understand what she meant. I knew she was at least as big a Tolkien-nerd as I was, and we’d read the books about the same time.

“Don’t you remember?” she said. “My parents thought I read too much, so after half an hour I had to go play outside.” (My friend was much too well-behaved to do the logical thing and sneak the book out with her.) Clearly, if I had ever known about such traumatic events, I had blocked them from my memory. Of course, now that she is a grown-up with a full-time job and a household to support, it’s very nearly impossible for my friend to go back and recreate the summers she should have had, visiting other worlds and inhabiting other lives.

I’ve used her sad story as a cautionary tale in my own life. Whether we take a summer break or homeschool year-round (we’ve done both), I try to take advantage of the unique flexibility of homeschool life to make sure that my kids have the time and space to find their own reading obsessions. This year my younger son is tracking down The 39 Clues as quickly as the library can fulfill his hold requests, my 11-year-old daughter is matriculating at Hogwarts for the umpteenth time, my teenage daughter is spending a lot of time in various apocalyptic wastelands, and my teenage son is hanging out in small-town Maine with terrifying clowns. I can’t always join them (no way am I voluntarily reading about scary clowns), but I do try to schedule some marathon readaloud sessions, so that we can finally finish the His Dark Materials trilogy or get started with our first Jane Austen.

Occasionally (oh, happy day!) the kids will even ask me for reading suggestions, so I can pull out some recent favorites from the children’s/YA shelf. At the moment that list includes Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner, about a fantasy world where parental overprotectiveness has been taken to such extremes that children are literally chained to their guardians. Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, is an alternate-history steampunk retelling of World War I, where the heroine disguises herself as a boy to serve on one of the massive, genetically modified, living airships in the British air force. Garth Nix’s Mister Monday envisions all of creation being run by a vast, supernatural bureaucracy, which our 12-year-old hero must learn to navigate to save his own life and ultimately the world (encountering quite a bit more adventure and danger along the way than we usually find in, say, the average DMV office). Each of these books is the first in a series, fulfilling my requirements for appropriate summer reading.

And as much as possible, I try to carve out some time for myself to grab my own over-large summer book—maybe Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, or Hilary Mantel’s latest Tudor epic, Bring Up the Bodies, or maybe I’ll finally tackle Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire—and snuggle next to the kids to do some side-by-side reading, ignoring deadlines and household chores to get lost in a book together.

This post is reprinted from the summer 2014 issue of HSL magazine.

Stuff We Like :: 6.24.16

home|school|life's Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

around the web

Knitting is so cool. Like, James Bond cool.

I think a homeschooler should live in Harriet the Spy’s house. And invite me over for dinner. And let me ride in the dumbwaiter. (Because of course there’s a dumbwaiter!)

This was awesome: An open letter to the female hat-wearing dog from Go, Dog, Go

Relevant to our podcast reading of Tooth and Claw (which is basically Trollope + dragons, and you should read it with us if that's your cup of tea, too): The Novels of Anthony Trollope Reviewed

It’s possible that I’m only posting this quiz because my literary mental twin was Hermione Granger, which I have ALWAYS SUSPECTED.


at home | school | life

in the classroom: We’re working on the fall class lineup, so let us know if there’s a class you’re looking for!

on the blog: I’m thinking of stealing Molly’s summer to-do list.

on the podcast: We’re on iTunes!

in summer reading: I love that the Studio Ghibli adaptation is making more people read When Marnie Was There because I really adore this book.

in the archives: Summer seems like the perfect time to take Amy Hood’s advice and start a family sketchbook habit.


reading list

on my night table: Tooth and Claw and Burr (for the podcast), From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature, Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, A People’s History of the United States, Henrietta’s House, A Spring Affair (technically, this one’s spending most of its time in the pool bag)

on my 14-year-old’s night table: My Antonia, Zakka Sewing: 25 Japanese Projects for the Household, A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony, Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen

on my 8-year-old’s night table: Dust. 

together: The Son of Neptune, Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, Through the Looking Glass(We seem to be doing more readalouds because they’re so portable for school at the pool.)


at home

watching: The last season of Scandal, even though I’m so annoyed with every single character and the writing in general at this point that I spend most of my time complaining at Jason about everything that happens

knitting: Casting on for Sleeping Cedars (I talked about my knitting for babies obsession—and shared my Ravelry info, even though it's embarrassing that I never remember to take photos, on this week's podcast. )

)playing: Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock

drinking: Frosé (It’s fun to say AND fun to drink!)

listening: Moonrise Nation’s cover of Disclosure's "Latch"