Sen­sa­tional sum­mer reading

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

Re­mem­ber the heady an­tic­i­pa­tion of a fresh sum­mer reading list land­ing on your school desk? The crisp pho­to­copy filled with ti­tles yet to be dis­cov­ered, new lands to ex­plore and au­thors with unique, authen­tic voices just wait­ing to be — . . . No? Any­one? Bueller? Even as an adult, the idea of start­ing a per­sonal reading project fills me with geeky glee. I was most def­i­nitely the kid who had com­pleted her as­sign­ments within weeks of the fi­nal bus leav­ing the school park­ing lot — some­one who looked askance at class­mates bing­ing on Cliff­sNotes be­fore a back-to­class quiz.

Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mock­ing­bird” is, of course, a clas­sic — and one of my more mem­o­rable sum­mer reads. But Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club” sticks out, too, as does “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe.

Reading has never been a task, a bur­den or a chore. To me, reading is so­lace and re­lax­ation — a happy place, and a con­stant. I can tell you what I was reading at many ma­jor points in my life: like when I was wait­ing to meet my fu­ture hus­band at a cafe (“The Help” by Kathryn Stock­ett), and the last book I fin­ished be­fore my son was born (“The Pre­cious One” by Marisa de los San­tos).

I don’t get to en­joy hun­ker­ing down with a book as of­ten as I used to, cer­tainly, but I still try to make time — even just a few min­utes — to read at night. Long be­fore I be­came a writer, wife and mother, I was a reader. Women’s fic­tion was al­ways my fla­vor of choice, but lately I’ve been reach­ing for mem­oirs and in­spi­ra­tional reads — es­pe­cially par­ent­ing self-help — to give me a lit­tle ex­tra en­cour­age­ment to get through the late-night ex­haus­tion.

When I’m too tired to read, I lis­ten. Au­dio­books re­mind me of sit­ting criss-cross-ap­ple­sauce in Mrs. Brown’s sec­ond grade class­room, lis­ten­ing as she en­thu­si­as­ti­cally read a story aloud in a cor­ner at Arthur Mid­dle­ton El­e­men­tary. Au­dio­books are en­gag­ing, en­ter­tain­ing — al­laround awe­some. Great ones like “Sis­ter­land” by Cur­tis Sit­ten­feld, my cur­rent read, make run­ning er­rands and schlep­ping up and back from day­care a plea­sure.

I didn’t con­sider this “ac­tual reading” in my early audio days, but I’ve com­pletely swung around to the read-aloud way of life. Once I re­al­ized how clearly I could re­call the char­ac­ters, plot and di­a­logue, I knew I’d paid as much at­ten­tion — if not more — to the story than if I’d been hold­ing a phys­i­cal book. So it to­tally counts. And that’s a good thing, too, be­cause for the first time in adult­hood, I’ve joined sev­eral sum­mer reading chal­lenges. The good folks at our lo­cal li­braries are host­ing events open to kids and adults of all ages — with prizes to boot.

If you’re any­thing like me, you should prob­a­bly be drink­ing more wa­ter, swap­ping quinoa for french fries . . . and break­ing up (a lit­tle) with your smart­phone. Know­ing how im­por­tant it is for me to have that time to un­wind, I’m pri­or­i­tiz­ing reading this sum­mer and chal­leng­ing my­self to read four books be­fore Aug. 26 — the end date for li­brary pro­grams. If I can spend an hour or more mind­lessly scrolling through Face­book after Oliver and Hadley fall asleep, I can get through a few chap­ters of a book.

Be­fore kids, ex­haus­tion and my limited at­ten­tion span, I read for hours nightly. Stacks of pa­per­backs came home with me — all pur­chased by mak­ing good use of my em­ployee dis­count at Bor­ders in Wal­dorf. I worked there dur­ing my se­nior year of col­lege and into my first years at the Mary­land In­de­pen­dent.

My li­brary card had ex­pired years ago, and I used my 15-minute breaks at the store to shop. I could have put my hard-earned $8 an hour to­ward some­thing sub­stan­tial, but in­stead I es­sen­tially worked for free.

No mat­ter. I’ve found the li­brary now. And once you’re hooked, there’s no go­ing back.

Want to get in on the ac­tion? In Calvert County, the young and young at heart are chal­leng­ing them­selves with #calvertreads — a pro­gram en­cour­ag­ing par­tic­i­pants to make a reading pledge and log their progress on­line (calvertli­brary. Or­ga­niz­ers are chal­leng­ing par­tic­i­pants to read 30,000 books this sum­mer. Reg­is­ter your­self, your fam­ily or a group to be en­tered into a grand prize draw­ing at sum­mer’s end.

A sim­i­lar project is hap­pen­ing in Charles County: the “Build a Bet­ter World” ul­ti­mate sum­mer reading chal­lenge in­vites par­tic­i­pants to track their reading on­line ( sum­mer_read­ing) for a chance to earn badges and vouch­ers from lo­cal busi­nesses, hap­pen­ing now through Aug. 26.

In St. Mary’s, “Build a Bet­ter World” has chal­lenges for kids, teens and adults. For grownups, writ­ing re­views and track­ing your reading makes you el­i­gi­ble to play Bingo for a chance to win prizes through Aug. 26. Go to kids-pro­gram/sum­mer-reading.

St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land is in on the fun, too, with a li­brary sum­mer reading pro­gram hap­pen­ing through Aug. 18. Open to all mem­bers of the St. Mary’s Col­lege com­mu­nity as well as res­i­dents of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s coun­ties, the com­pe­ti­tion chal­lenges read­ers to share re­views on its blog (sm­cm­li­brary. word­ with re­wards along the way.

Whether you’re in it for the swag or sim­ply want a way to hold your­self ac­count­able for your reading goals, these pro­grams have def­i­nitely in­spired me to make more time for the lit­tle things that make me happy.

And to bor­row au­dio­books from the li­brary two or three at a time.

That goal won’t reach it­self.

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