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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My Summer Reading List Recommendations
- Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Trevor Noah)
- Educated: A Memoir (Tara Westover)
- The Lacuna (Barbara Kingsolver)
- Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)
- Less: A Novel (Andrew Sean Greer)
- Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain)
- News of the World (Paulette Jiles)
- Golf in the Kingdom (Michael Murphy)
- Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance)
- The Wright Brothers (David McCullough)
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind (Yuval Noah Harari)
- The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (Stephen Greenblatt)
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Pirsig)
- Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
- The Long Walk to Freedom (The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela)
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival (Laura Hildebrand)
- Fall of Giants / Winter of the World / Edge of Eternity (Century Trilogy by Ken Follett)
- The Lincoln Lawyer (Michael Connelly)
- Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)
- Truman (David McCullough)
- Undaunted Courage (Stephen Ambrose)
- Demon Copperhead (Barbara Kingsolver)
- Anything by Pat Conroy (The Water is Wide, The Prince of Tides, The Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini)
- Breakfast with Buddha (Roland Murullo)
Books recommended by readers (Thank you – I look forward to reading them!)
- Cloud Cuckoo Land (Anthony Doerr)
- Circe (Madeline Miller)
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera) (Agreed – it’s wonderful)
- Dune (Frank Herbert) (I’ve read it twice – totally agree!)
- The Island of Sea Women (Lisa See)
- The Night Circus (Erin Morganstern) (Yes! I loved this book!)
- The Rook (Daniel O’Malley)
- The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell)
- Midnight in Broad Daylight (Pamela Rotner Sakamoto)
- 12 Rules for Life (Jordan Peterman)
- Lessons in Chemistry (Bonnie Garmus)
- Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (Gabrielle Zevin)
- Horse (Geraldine Brooks)
- Lincoln Highway (Amor Towles) (Agreed – a great book, as is A Gentleman in Moscow by the same author)
- Skipping Christmas (John Grisham)
- The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (Bill Bryson)
- A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bill Bryson) (This is an amazing book – well worth the time. Don’t be intimidated by the title – it’s a fun read.)
- Travels with Charley: In Search of America (John Steinbeck) (Agreed – a classic and a perfect summer book)
- Last of the Breed (Louis L’Amour)
- Dirt(Bill Buford)
- A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving) (Totally agree! Yes, John Irving is crazy, and yes, this is a wonderful book worth reading and re-reading.)
- The Tender Bar: A Memoir (JR Moehringer)
- On the Road (Jack Keruoac)
- The Dharma Bums (Jack Keruoac)
- Lessons in Chemistry (Bonnie Garmus)
- The Personal Librarian (Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray)