Summer Reading – Having a Blast

June 11, 2023

I’ve never believed in predestination. I believe that we all have far more than one possible path. My son Dawson always marvels at all of the things that had to happen, just in his parents’ lives, for him to come into existence. It is indeed a marvel. How did an oddball kid from Arkansas end up marrying a math whiz/cheerleader from Venice High School in California? A lot of things had to happen, and a lot of things had to not happen, for Dawson to eventually happen. It could have easily ended up some other way. When Dawson questions one of my parenting decisions, I remind him that he’s lucky just to be here. #dadoftheyear

So what is it that creates the paths we travel? And what is it that changes us or leads us to make our path-altering decisions? While there’s a lot of me that hasn’t changed during the course of my life, I believe I am a much different person today than I was in 1980 as I left Arkansas for California. What made those changes happen?

My friend George recently gave me a beautiful book by David Cook that begins with a quote from Zig Ziglar, “Two things that can change us are the people we meet and the books we read.” I’ve been thinking about that quote for the last couple of weeks, and I have not yet found a reason to disagree.

I have read many books over the years that have opened my mind, taught me new ways of thinking, and pushed me to be a better human being. I seek out these books and I’m grateful for their role in changing me into a different, and hopefully a better, father, husband, friend, leader, and educator. If you’ve read this blog regularly, you know I’m always looking at books for inspiration and self-improvement.

But here’s the thing. It’s summer. And as Sergeant Hulka said to Psycho in the movie Stripes, “Lighten up, Francis.” I don’t always need to be on the self-improvement and life-changing path. There is time in life for smelling roses, for taking the path less traveled, and for not going one million miles an hour. That’s why summer reading lists are a thing, and I’m all in.

Summer is a time when I read mostly just to entertain myself, and I find that it’s time well invested. I just finished reading an older John Grisham book, Playing for Pizza, which in no way changed me, but it sure made my flight from Little Rock to Los Angeles (a direct flight no less!) go a lot faster. Before that, I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Demon Copperhead, and as usual with her books, I was totally consumed by both her story and her writing. I frequently pick up Calvin and Hobbes collections, just to laugh and escape. I read cookbooks, seeking interesting stories, ideas, and recipes. 

Summer reading lists highlight books meant to be read barefoot in a lounge chair, sipping a cool beverage, escaping from our normal life, however lovely or challenging it may be. It’s not easy for me, but I know it’s good for me to sometimes channel Baloo from the Jungle Book, looking for the bare necessities and forgetting about my worries and my strife. Maybe Paul Simon was thinking about Baloo when he wrote the lyrics, “Slow down, you move too fast.” Keith Urban knows what I’m talking about, as he sings, “Ain’t it funny how the best days of my life, was all that wasted time?” Almost 40 years ago, Bill Waterson published a comic strip where Hobbes the tiger muses, “You know what I like about summer days? They’re just made for doing things . . . Even if it’s nothing. To which Calvin lazily retorts, “Especially if it’s nothing.” 

There you go.

Summer reading books help me to channel Baloo, Paul, Calvin, and Keith. And I need a distraction like reading to keep me from doing something productive. Otherwise, I’ll start cleaning out a drawer and throwing away stuff that does not spark joy.

And by the way, research is on my side here. A key ingredient of being mentally healthy is having downtime. It’s something missing in the lives of many of our overachieving and over-scheduled children. Calvin had it right. Play is a wonderful thing. (And to avoid any confusion, I’m speaking of the comic strip Calvin. I started off saying I don’t believe in predestination, so clearly, I am not referring to John Calvin.)

Ever since 2010, I have kept an annotated bibliography of books I’ve read. I’ve been surprised to find people who appreciate my book lists and my thoughts on them. I even have a section highlighting books that have changed my life and kept me thinking.

But what I don’t have is a section on summer reading lists – books that may not change you or make you better, but they sure will help you forget about life for a little while, learn a little bit, and journey away from wherever you are. And maybe, just maybe, the escapes provided by these books are some of the butterfly wings that somehow created changes that have led me (and Dawson) to this moment in time. 

I’ve taken books from my bibliography that I think make great summer reading books. Take a look below and see what you think. And I would appreciate your comments on books you highly recommend for summer reading.

Thanks, as always, for reading! And this summer, at least every once in a while, do your best to lighten up.

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  1. Wonderful as always and thank you for the reading list. I’m starting with Breakfast with Buddha. ❤️

    1. Dan Stepenosky says:

      Just read it…it’s terrific!

    2. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Tracee!

  2. Janet Johnson says:

    I really enjoy your posts and your reading recommendations. My family and friends know that when I travel there will be books in my souvenir bag. I usually prefer non-fiction, but agree that a diversion into fiction (even sappy fiction from time to time) is a good reset for my brain and soul.
    At a stop at Manzanar two years ago I picked up a book that I think you would enjoy. Midnight in Broad Daylight by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto is about a Japanese-American family starting before World War II. One of the sons becomes an interpreter for the US military, while most of his family is living in Hiroshima. My fiction-loving book club members thanked me for recommending this book to them.
    Enjoy your summer!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Janet – thanks for reading and for the suggestion. It’s on the list and it’s on my list. The stories of Japanese-American heroism in World War II are incredibly inspiring. I will read anything about the 442 Infantry Regiment, comprised solely of Japanese American volunteers. Thanks again.

  3. kelli keller says:

    Love Michael Murphy… great add. Try “12 Rules for Life” by Jordan Peterman!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Nice to meet a fellow Michael Murphy fan. I should have known. All the best!

  4. Carolyn Seaton says:

    Hi Mike,

    I enjoyed this post. Here is a Google Sheet with recommendations for book club books from my FB friends, many of whom are educators: I know that you and Jill will find several titles you’ll love on that list. I’m reading Demon Copperhead now. Recently I read the Lincoln Highway, Tomorrow & Tomorrow & Tomorrow, Horse, and Lessons in Chemistry- all excellent.

    By the way, as an avid Olivia Newton-John fan, I thought your post would start with, “Summer readin’, had me a blast.” You were close.

    Hope to see you and Jill in CO one of these days. Is Dawson going to be a junior next year?

    All the best,

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      I thought the Having a Blast title was already a little much, but can you ever have enough Olivia Newton John references? I say no. Thanks for the great suggestions – they are on the list. Dawson will be a junior next year. I can’t believe it. We’ll definitely make the journey to connect when we are out there. Thanks for reading!

  5. Dermot Stoker says:

    Great stuff Mike, John Grisham is my “go to” , he’s always been terrific. Speaking of Reading on Flights, Grisham most humorous has to be, “Skipping Christmas” too funny not to recommend. I read that on the way to Maui a few years ago. It was extremely difficult not to laugh out loud on a full flight. I really couldn’t help it. Cheers, Derm

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Dermot! I have not read it and I’ve added to this list and my list! Cheers back to you!

  6. Holly Bovio says:

    I enjoyed Dirt by Bill Buford about a family who moves to France so the father can pursue a dream of learning to cook French food.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      I may make that same move. I’ll check it out! Thanks, Holly!

  7. Bill Sampson says:

    On the Road

    The Dharma Bums

    Two from Kerouac and both involve travel – what could be better for summer?

    Permit me a digression. At breakfast, which happened to be the conclusion of a woodie show, this very morning , a fellow woodie owner, when I said something about a book by Thom Hartmann looked at me with a feigned quizzical expression and asked me what was this “book” thing. I told him they are prepared on typewriters. He’s older than I even and past Chair of the Board of Trustees of a large metropolitan community college district. We had a good laugh, mutually hoping books are around for further millenia and multitudes of readers.

    Thanks Mike

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks as always, Bill. You laugh, but there are kids today who ask, “What is this ‘drive-in’ thing?” I think books will probably stand the test of time, and I’m hoping it’s for “further millenia and multitudes of readers.” I’ll add your Kerouac books to the list. Thank you.

  8. jane lee westerhold says:

    I really enjoyed Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. I finished it in two days on a lounge chair in Jamaica. I hear it will be a movie in October. Thank you always for your inspiring posts.
    Sending best wishes for a fabulous summer from the retired superintendent sitting next to you at NCERT in NOLA.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Jane! Thanks for being a reader, and I look forward to joining your ranks on July 1. I was in an airport recently and it seemed like this book was in the hands of every other person in the terminal. It must be great. I look forward to reading it. Oh – and the Jamaica-name-drop was impressively and somewhat subtly done. #jealous

  9. Connie Harrington says:

    I’ve read many of the books on your lists and I’ve loved them! I want to add The Personal Librarian. You’ll love it! Thanks for posting!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Connie! Sounds like something we all need! Now it’s on my list to read. Have a nice summer!

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