As soon as San Francisco delivers its first stretch of warm spring days (as it’s doing, gloriously, right now), I start itching for Memorial Day weekend, the kickoff of summer—or, as I think of it, Reading Season. Don’t get me wrong: I read no matter the time of year (my Goodreads shelves are a testament to this). But like a bear that can’t get enough salmon during the countdown to hibernation, I gorge myself on stories in the summer months.
Why is this, I wonder? Why, when other people face a blue-sky summer day and start planning their biking or swimming adventures, do I find myself longing to stretch out in the sun for a good read?
Maybe it’s because as a child I used to yearn for the summer months, when my reading choices were my own, when my school workload didn’t put a dent in the amount of books I could read. The chance to choose my own books! I still get residual chills just thinking about what this freedom must have felt like for a book-loving kid.
Or maybe it’s because when my working parents needed someone to keep an eye on me during the wild, supervision-free summer months, they would send me to spend the day at Booktenders’, my aunt’s children’s bookstore. There, I’d select the book I wanted to read and my aunt would put me to “work” shelving new books until I’d “earned” my reward. I’d devour my chosen book right then and there, sitting on the carpet in the back of the store by the spinning rack of teen books with their bafflingly juicy covers, and then immediately start over, picking a new book and getting back to “work.” Did any kid ever have it so good?
Or maybe it’s because Avalon, N.J., the beach town where I’ve spent a part of every summer, is home to a small but cheerful bookstore called the Paper Peddler, and as a kid, I’d start every stay on the island by perusing the store’s shelves, the smell of a new book as much the signature scent of summer vacation for me as salty island air or Sunday morning sticky buns.
Or maybe it’s because when I was 16, I attended the University of Virginia’s Young Writers Workshop Summer Program, and for the first time realized that I was part of an invisible network of passionate young writers who embraced reading with the same insatiable spirit that I did. While at the program, I learned that an orange silk kimono jacket purchased at a Charlottesville thrift store could transform me into a funny and cool public speaker, that a plaintive lilt must accompany the end of each line of poetry read aloud, and that there was an entire college campus full of students as devoted to Faulkner as I was.
Or maybe it’s because—now that I’m juggling a writing career with raising two young daughters—summer is the time of year when my family makes our pilgrimage from San Francisco to the Jersey shore. There, eager grandparents offer themselves up as babysitters while I slip away with a book for a few peaceful, vitamin-D-filled hours. I don’t have free childcare at home, so during those summer trips you’re likely to find me chain-reading with the jittery, reckless abandon of an addict who isn’t sure when she’ll be able to afford her next hit.
Most likely, of course, it’s all of these things and more. It’s the fact that powder-blue skies and ocean breezes contain a sort of magic, transporting us back to our sun-kissed youths when summer held all the possibilities of a brand-new story. We race, race, race through the year, the ever-growing to-do lists, the holidays, the indignities of the dentist’s chair, the “What are we going to eat for dinner?” questions, the tweets and Tumblrs, the carpools... And then, before you know it, the clouds part, the days lengthen, the sunsets burn with astonishing resplendency, and suddenly the appeal of just sitting (sitting!) with a book becomes so intense it’s practically a siren song—one that cannot be ignored. And why on Earth would you?
A sunny day and a good book, a long soul-fortifying inhalation of breath before a tantalizing first sentence, and another summer begins.