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5 Questions to Help Fine-Tune your Summer Reading List
Monday, June 23, 2014

5.  Are any of the books I’m reading ‘literary’?

What is a ‘literary’ book, you ask?  According to editor/publisher/professor Jane Friedman, a work of fiction is ‘literary’ if it meets the following four criteria: (1) it’s intellectual; (2) it has depth; (3) it’s more about character than about plot; (4) it has style.  Chances are, the English department at your school assigned a book or two for summer reading that most definitely meets all four of these criteria.  You should certainly read at least one literary book, and challenge yourself to identify Friedman’s four criteria as you read.

4.  Are too many of the books I’m reading ‘literary’?

If literary books are the only kind you’ve put on your summer reading list, perhaps you should consider branching out.  You might try a work of nonfiction, such as a biography or an historical overview of a particular war or time period.  And if you really want to do yourself a favor, you might plan on reading a work of nonfiction that will enhance your enjoyment of a literary book you have to read.  For example, you might read Rick Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light, about World War II in 1944-1945, before reading Joseph Heller’s classic, Catch-22.

3. Am I reading any books that challenge me?

If you really want to re-read the entire Harry Potter series for the fifth time, by all means--go ahead.  But if that’s the only reading you plan on doing, you might want to think again.  Your teachers have planned a curriculum of reading come fall that will challenge you, so you might as well get warmed up for it by reading at least one challenging book over summer.  You’ll find no shortage of “reading up” lists online, such as Multnomah County Library’s, which includes books like Janet Schulman’s Pale Male and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island on its 7th & 8th Grade list.

2. Am I reading anything unconventional or “out of my comfort zone”?

This is simple.  What genre of reading haven’t you explored yet?  Westerns? Science Fiction? Graphic Novels?  Open your mind, then open a book from that particular genre.  You’ll be surprised what you might like.  For a great comprehensive list of reading recommendations by genre, check out The Guardian’s A-Z list here.

1. Am I reading the right books at the right time?

Have you given any thought to when you’re going to read the books on your summer reading list?  If you’re headed off on a beach vacation in early August, that might not be the best time to read Vergil’s Aeneid.  In short, schedule time to do your serious reading in serious places, such as your local library, and your fun reading in fun places, such as the beach.  And if you know you’re going to be quizzed over an assigned novel, save it for the end of the summer, and try to finish it right around the time that school starts.  According a 2013 study from Emory University in Atlanta, the “effects of reading a novel linger in the average person’s mind” for only 5 days (Real Simple, July 2014).

Above all, the most important thing is ‘real simple’: read!