My Summer of Abundant Reading: Musings and Reflections

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This is the first summer since 2012 that has not involved long-distance moves, major family illness, and/or other significant life upheaval.  It has been a godsend to have an extended period of time of self-care that has included regular exercise, plentiful sleep, quiet unhurried reflection time, minimal stress, and lots of reading!  I have probably read more texts (and I use a broad definition of texts) this summer than any other year of my adult life since I was last in graduate school at UGA over 10 years ago.  I have focused most of my text reading on books this summer—-it has felt like a luxury to have time and energy to do so.  Though I love reading, I have been a picky reader as an adult and have struggled at times to find self-selected reads that appeal to me.  I have been surprised by the volume of reading I have done this summer though I feel the gift of time, no professional commitments, my Kindle, a new job, and new connections on social media have contributed to my reading revival.

I have read hard copy versions of some books; however, I have read quite a few books on my Kindle Fire that I purchased last fall.   What do I love about reading on my Kindle?  I can:

  • Read while I am working out at the gym on the elliptical–exercise for the body and mind!  In addition, reading while I am on the elliptical makes gym time go MUCH faster.
  • I can sample many kinds of books thanks to the free preview feature of Kindle books—I am confident that I have tried many more kinds of books through the serendipity of Kindle book browsing than I would if I were physically browsing shelves in a library or bookstore.  This aspect of book discovery is one I find quite interesting and is making me think much more deeply about how readers connect with specific books.
  • I can use the “Blue Shade” feature on my Kindle to help ease eye strain (people seem to love or hate this feature, but I like it).
  • I can easily and seamlessly post updates from Kindle reads to my Goodreads account (and I have used Goodreads much more for book ideas this summer than ever).
  • I can easily highlight and take notes, and then export those for easy reference at a later time if I want.
  • I can add Audible narration when available (and in my budget)—I like this feature even though I don’t consider myself an audiobook person.

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With that said, there are times I want the hard copy of the book to read—this desire mainly occurs with professional books though sometimes I wish I could afford both the hard and copy the e-copy as I am trying to figure out the best method of taking notes on my professional reading that fits who I am as a learner these days.  With my professional books, I often want to flip to a specific section of the hard copy of the book not just for ease of reference, but also because sometimes I just need to SEE it right in front of me.  I still like highlighting and writing out notes by hand, but I do love the ease of highlighting on the Kindle, too.

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Other times a book may only be available in hard copy, but sometimes you also need the hard copy to better appreciate the graphics, art, or photography.

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Here are my summer reads; the ones that I have boldfaced are my favorites:

  • Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai
  • Hour of the Bees, Lindsay Eagar
  • The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, M. Colleen Cruz
  • Shadowshaper, Daniel Jose Older
  • Road to Tara:  The Life of Margaret Mitchell, Anne Edwards
  • Eruption, The Untold Story of Mt. St. Helens, Steve Olson
  • Georgia, A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe, Dawn Tripp
  • The Atomic Weight of Love:  A Novel, Elizabeth Church
  • My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
  • Simple Dreams:  A Musical Memoir, Linda Ronstadt
  • Cumberland Island:  Strong Women, Wild Horses, Charles Seabrook
  • Losing Clementine, A Novel, Ashley Ream
  • Awash, Dawn Lee McKenna
  • Being Mortal:  Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande
  • American Ghost:  A Family’s Extraordinary History on the Desert Frontier, Hannah Nordhaus
  • Lily and the Octopus, Steven Rowley
  • Lab Girl, Hope Jahren
  • The Wright Brothers, David McCullough
  • Sally Ride, America’s First Woman in Space, Lynn Sherr
  • Blue Horses, Mary Oliver
  • The Beekeeper’s Lament, Hannah Nordhaus

As you can see, I read a pretty diverse mix of books including biography, nonfiction, memoir, fiction, and poetry.  I read some things that I normally would have never picked, but I stumbled upon them through my browsing experiences in the Kindle Store and Goodreads; there were also times I discovered books to read (or to add to the wish list) through colleagues on Twitter and Facebook.  Interestingly enough, I have been watching a lot of documentaries this summer, which seems to parallel my growing love for nonfiction.  I am thinking a good bit about the core of powerful stories at these genres of film and texts, but that is another set of reflections for another day.

Being able to sample books on the Kindle or to read a free excerpt online before ordering a hard copy of a book was critical to the choices I made.  Most of the books I read this summer I liked though there were a couple I thought I would enjoy more (they fell flat for me); there were also a couple I found incredibly disappointing and didn’t enjoy at all.  I still have quite a few in progress, and I have a “want to read” list that is a mile wide!

As I mentioned earlier, my summer reading experiences have me thinking a lot more about how people find and connect with specific books as well as the experience of contemporary “browsing” and book discovery.  What is that like in a digital environment compared to physical browsing?  What do those experiences have in common?  How are they different?  What does this mean for our students or our library patrons?  Ourselves?  How and why might it differ for children/teens from adults?  Interestingly enough, I did not go to my local library for any print or digital books, nor did I consult with anyone from my local library for a suggestion or help.  Instead, I relied heavily on Amazon browsing and Goodreads suggestions. However, my reads and “to read” lists not only came from these sources, but as I mentioned earlier, Twitter colleagues.  I also belong to two Facebook groups on teaching reading and writing that have provided lots of great professional “want to reads”; I have also gotten many ideas for children’s books to read from the Coastal Savannah Writing Project Facebook group.  All of these musings have me wondering how might I draw upon my experiences as a reader to help my students during the upcoming school year.

Most importantly, my summer of reading has helped me reconnect with myself in many ways.  To feel the joy of reading I felt as a child has been energizing and has helped me remember why as a child I declared I wanted to be an “author” or writer of some sort (more on that in a future blog post).

Buffy as a Child Falling Asleep with a Good Read
Buffy as a Child Falling Asleep with a Good Read

This summer of abundant reading has also helped me explore genres of writing and topics I like as well as discover new favorites.  On a more personal level, my reading has been therapeutic and helped me in many ways process and cope with the profound grief I still feel over the passing of my mother who has been gone two years but whose absence is still felt acutely in my heart and day to day life.  The act of reading and the actual books I have read (even the ones that seemingly have nothing to do with losing my mother) have all in some way been healing for me.  Many of my reads also have me thinking about new dreams for myself, seeing life in a different and positive way, or contemplating how a particular book might inspire/nurture a friend or future student.  I have re-discovered just how nourishing and sustaining reading genuinely is for me.

What have you been reading this summer?  How do you discover books to read?  What have been your favorites?  Where do you like to read, and what formats of texts do you enjoy?  What are you looking forward to reading next?  How are you helping your students or library patrons connect with books?  I would love to hear your experiences and reflections!

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