Reading Lives: Summers of Book Love by Rebecca Behrens
A book, a blanket, a steaming mug of cocoa or tea—for many, reading is the quintessential cold-weather activity. A book is something they cozy up with. But since childhood, I’ve believed that summer—with its long, languorous days—is really the best season for reading.
Freedom is a bicycle and a library card. I spent my summers as a kid pedaling to the Sequoya branch of the Madison Public library. I’d spin the paperback racks like a wheel of fortune, the prizes not being money but Nancy Drew mysteries, Judy Blume classics, Ann Rinaldi’s historical fiction, the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and eventually Sweet Valley High. During the busy school year, I didn’t often have hours to spend at the library—my afternoons and weekends were chock-full with homework, choir practice, soccer games, Sunday school, Girl Scouts. But in summertime, I could explore the shelves thoroughly. After a long browse, I’d hop back on my bike, backpack full of new adventures. At home, I would stretch out on the deck, using the open book to shade my eyes from the sun. I’d put the book down only to swat at mosquitoes.
Some days I’d bike straight from the library to the pool. I didn’t mind when the whistle blew for adult swim. Then I could collapse onto a towel or a lounge chair (if the lifeguards were letting kids use them) to read, water droplets sprinkling all over the pages. I stayed hydrated by guzzling cans of metallic-tinged Country Time lemonade. Sometimes I’d buy ice-cream pops from the Snack Shack, which I’d have to eat quickly and carefully, so the melting ice cream didn’t run down my arm and onto the pages. (I kind of hate to think about all the melted-chocolate and sunscreen smears I might’ve gotten on those library books.)
If it was a day when my mom drove us to the pool, my sister and I would beg her for a stop at Waldenbooks or Half Price on the way home. While our wet hair dripped down our shoulders, we’d sit cross-legged on the bookstore floor, trying to pick which titles would be added to the next day’s pool bag. It was always so hard to choose. My favorite series could not keep up with my reading appetite, so it was pure joy every time the Baby-Sitters Club shelf had a new title—especially one of the extra long, extra dramatic Super Specials. (Remember #4, The Baby-Sitters’ Island Adventure, when a sailing race turns the baby-sitters into castaways? Always my favorite.)
Summers in Wisconsin get hot, and my parents did not update our old house with central air until I was in middle school. Some days, the only way to escape the heat was to head to the basement. Stored down there were all of my mother’s classroom materials. After reading the anthologies and textbooks cover to cover, I became a one-kid focus group for reading programs as she and her Language Arts colleagues selected one for the upcoming year. (Perhaps this is why I became a textbook editor after college. Part of my test for including a selection in a reading anthology has always been: would tween-me have kept reading this story or flipped on the fuzzy basement TV? )
I can’t think of many summer experiences that don’t somehow involve reading. Finding old comic books at antique stores near Grandma’s house; missing half the sites during a family trip because I wouldn’t, couldn’t put down Jurassic Park; sneaking contraband English reading materials into my language-immersion summer camp. Maybe these salient memories of summer reading are part of why I am drawn to stories set during long, hot days—both in my reading and my writing. My latest novel, Summer of Lost and Found, is all about the discoveries my main character makes about history, her family, and herself during one adventurous summer vacation. And my next book, The Last Grand Adventure, takes place over the course of a few days during the summer of ’67. Somehow, characters and concepts like to lead me to this time of year.
At the library, the pool, the bookstore, the backseat, and in my basement, I became not just a reader but a voracious one, perhaps because my childhood summertime reading was usually self-selected and always about pleasure. I returned to old favorites and I discovered new ones. My book love had time to bloom in summer. And it’s still when I do my best reading. When the leaves turn and fall, I collect books like a squirrel stockpiles acorns. During the shortest, darkest weeks of winter, that pile of titles for the next summer’s reading helps me look forward to days long enough to lose track of time, thanks to a good book.
Rebecca Behrens is the author of the middle-grade novels WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE (Sourcebooks) and SUMMER OF LOST AND FOUND (Simon & Schuster). You can find out more about Rebecca at her website: http://www.rebeccabehrens.com