Smells Like Summer

Disclaimer: I’ve been taking a class on global leadership (don’t ask me why, I can’t be sure) that was owning my life for the past 10 weeks, hence no posts so… here is my attempt to getting back into “blogging”… again.

The other day I was on Amazon picking books for my summer reading list (now that my life is no longer consumed by the aforementioned class) and every time I found a new one I wanted to read I got a little giddy feeling inside. Granted, there are more exciting things going on in my life than ordering books on Amazon, but I love the smell and feel of a brand new book, and the joy (or dismay) I feel upon finishing it. I would probably say I always loved these things, but the more I thought about it, the more i realized that wasn’t true.You know those kids that were reading Moby Dick in the 2nd grade and just loooooved to read everything? Yeah, well, I wasn’t one of those kids. Some people assume I was because of my self-proclaimed book wormism now, but my story is a little different.

Every summer growing up, my elementary school had one of those summer reading competitions, where you had to record all the books you read over the summer; some attempt to avoid summer brain drain, but my brain was ready to be drained. Some think that growing up in the Portland suburbs meant that I spent a lot of time inside as a kid because of all the rain; they imagine a smaller version of myself, ghostly pale playing scrabble by the fire staring outside morosely as rain ran down the window pane – but that’s not how it was. Though it does rain a fair amount in Portland, there is also a lot of sun, and you just learn how to deal with the rain; put on some boots and a rain jacket you’re good to go. So on the last day of school I was dreaming of laying in the sun soaked grass with my kitty, exploring the creek and poking at crawdads with my neighbors, biking around the cul-de-sac ’till I was dizzy; or if I was spending the summer with my dad in California, there were beach days to be had, video games to be played, and obligatory trips to Universal, Disney, and Six Flags –  the last thing I was imagining was reading. But I digress, this reading competition. Every year, kids were supposed to set a reading goal, keep track of a list of all the books they read, have their parents sign off on it, and turn it in for some kind of prize. But like I said, I took no interest in this competition and it wasn’t even on my radar until the summer before 4th grade. This particular summer, my mom decided I would participate.

Around this same time, Harry Potter was gaining a lot of traction, kids were just losing their minds over this book, a book. It was a pretty revolutionary considering all the video game systems, cartoons, and toys competing for kids’ attention at this time (though I suppose it’s worse now). So my mom got the idea that this book would be perfect for me. I had shown an “advanced ability” in reading and comprehension from a young age, but all the books I was provided with bored me to death. I had no interest in reading about a club of babysitters, or about the shenanigans kids “just like me” got into , but these seemed to be the only books my school gave me; books about kids learning some kind of lesson, or finding themselves, or some bologna like that. I wanted aliens, science fiction, talking animals, but the only books that remotely sparked my interests were goosebumps, animorphs, captain underpants, and the occasional American Girl Doll books (I had Samantha and Josefina). I was told though that either: A. These books were meant for boys or B. They were below my suggested reading level – so, Harry Potter. My mom bought me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and told me I would have to sit, and read this book, for 30 minutes a day, I was unamused. Every day, my mom would remind me of my 30 minute punishment; if it was sunny out I would take my book to the backyard, and if it was raining I would settle down into our over sized love seat, but I did not actually read. Instead, I would sit, put the book on my face, and take a nap or at least close my eyes for a bit. I stole this idea from my grandfather who could often be found passed out with a book resting on his chest. If mom came to check in on me I would recover by flipping through the pages of the book, to show that I had made some kind of progress; I’m sure she was so proud to see my nose literally in a book. I eventually came to enjoy the papery smell of the book protecting my face from the sun as I laid in our backyard, pulling grass up aimlessly from the roots, at least that was enjoyable.

I don’t know when exactly, but on one particular summer’s day, I was especially restless and my 30 minute reading segment was stretching into eternity. I had pet my cat, pulled up some weeds, closed, opened, then closed and opened my eyes again, and yet I still had time to spare. I started to skim the words on the page and something must have caught my interest because I started reading from the beginning of the book. I was by no means a convert at this point, or fully convinced on the whole Harry Potter craze, but day-by-day I read a few pages until I finished. Upon finishing, I immediately moved onto the next, and by the end of Chamber of Secrets I was a full-blown “Potter Head” (ironic foreshadowing?). But it wasn’t just Harry I became enthralled with, I also read through all of the Series of Unfortunate Events, His Dark Materials trilogy, and the Ender’s Game series (obviously I had a thing for science fiction series). I was by no means the winner of the coveted summer reading contest (not sure if I ever got close), but I guess what I’m trying to say… Harry Potter was the start of my love affair with reading (this is quite possibly the corniest thing I’ve ever said but… whatever).

I don’t think this story is unusual for kids who grew up with Harry, he was relate-able, but also removed from our reality, different, interesting; I learned from Harry (or I suppose J.K.) that books, or rather words, could take me places I would never go, let me inside the lives of people I would never know, and experience feelings, events, and sensations that I may never encounter in this world. This is an obvious statement, but to me also a profound idea, that we can experience something just by reading about it. So anyways, this was a really round about way to introduce my summer reading list (maybe I’ll win the summer reading contest).


Recently Finished:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt: I really loved this book, not everyone in my book club was really into it, but it totally vibed with me. It’s a mysterious thriller, with an intellectual and pompous tone, and an inevitably tragic end. It’s a little on the morbid side, so if that’s not your thing, you’ve been warned.


Currently Reading:

Detroit City Is the Place to Be by Mark Billeni: This is a nonfiction chronicle of Detroit’s history, culminating on its collapse over the past 10 years. Though this may seem to be a depressing reading, the writer Mark Binelli not only discusses the past of this great American city, but its potential future. Normally I’m not interested in history, but my mom was raised in the Detroit suburbs and it has been one of those cities that always sparked my interest – especially in recent years. So far it’s a good read, the writing is great, and I’m eager read up on some of the theories Binelli encounters during his investigation on how Detroit can be rebuilt.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: This is our newest pick for book club; there’s magic, mystery, love, the supernatural, so I’m in. Not far in yet, so can’t make any comments just yet, but so far I’m intrigued.

Future Reads

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

Domestic Disturbances by Peter Grandbois

NW by Zadie Smith

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Goldfinch by Donna Tartt


My list may be a little ambitious for “summer” since July is upon us, but I plan to spend as much time as possible reading on the beach while I can (yeah we have a beach in Chicago).

Ready to ride the reading rainbow

Arty the Alien