top of page

The Best Summer Reading List for Writers

What is it that signals it’s finally summer for the current or aspiring scholar? Is it the end of classes? The final, final exam? Or the capping off of cap-and-gown season with the annual best-of roundup of graduation speeches? Yes, it's easy to cite the joyful flight of caps in the air. But I would argue that the real summer kick-starter, the thing that blows the scholar out of the classroom and back into the library stacks, is the appearance of the summer reading list.

The Personal List

Now, there are several types of such lists. The first, you create for pleasure. Speaking from experience, this idiosyncratic collection of titles includes, in no particular order, those books you’ve always wanted to read; those recommended to you; the ones currently piled up on the bedside table that you were moved enough to buy, but apparently not yet enough to read; seemingly several hundred New Yorker magazines; and the “great” books begun last summer or several years prior, but never completed. In my case, this would be The Three Musketeers, where I remain after eh-hem, cough, ___ years on a dog-eared page 38.

A special note to students: Although you may attempt to scale this mountain of texts many times, its summit will remain obscured by heavy clouds. In the spirit of Candide’s best of all possible worlds, do not be daunted. Be pleased instead. You have an inquiring mind, and as a result the peak will always remain just out of sight.

The Research List

For those engaged in a research project (and once you reach a certain stage of academia, who isn’t), there’s the research list. This inventory is a means to an end and is dictated by the demands of the task (e.g., the completion of a journal article or book chapter). It’s the secondary source material you require for context and the primary source material from the research trip you managed to squeeze in last summer.

The Teaching List

The research list vies for time with the teaching list. This is the collection of titles and articles you’re considering for a new course that you hope to introduce in the spring or fall. For scholars early in their career, this may include remnants of their orals lists. For others, it can indicate the first exciting forays into the undiscovered wilderness of new research.

The Writing List

Writers might consider adding one more list to their repertoire--a writing list. Now, this isn’t the inventory of projects that you promised you’d submit or hope to complete by the end of the all-too-brief season that is summer. This is the list of books by authors you admire not only for what they think, but also for how they express it. This is your Top Five or Top Two, the talismans that sparked your interest in a particular question or field of study and hold a prominent place on your bookshelf.

This summer, I propose that you to return to those books and re-read them, not as readers, but as fellow writers. Ask yourself, why they work? What makes them stand out to you? How are they organized? Are they direct in their line of reasoning or more circuitous? What is effective and what isn't about their method of argumentation? What does their language sound like in your head and in your mouth when you say it aloud?

Read them and take notes. Lots of notes. Write down what you see and hear, because we are always students of writing, no matter how proficient we become. Then try out what you observe. Take the maneuvers and stylistic choices and see how you might make them your own. At first, they will feel unwieldy and uncomfortable because they are not yours—your style, your voice. It’s important to remember that you’re only borrowing them. Eventually, they will be re-patterned, re-written, cut, and rearranged, tailored by you to reflect your writerly stance on the page. However, in trying them on, you may see yourself, your ideas, and your relationship with language in a new way. And that’s what the best reading lists, and of course, the writers who comprise them do. Just make sure that, if possible, you undertake this endeavor with your shoes off and your toes in the grass or the sand. It is summer, after all.

Featured Review
Tag Cloud
No tags yet.
bottom of page