I just finished teaching one of my favorite courses, "Summer Reading," in which we try to make sense of the endless book recommendations available at this time of year, of the standards of literary merit they call on, and of what constitutes pleasure reading for different people. The point, as I say repeatedly, is to get students to their next good book--and the next one, and the next one after that. You get the idea.
Because unlike in Pokemon Go where you want to "catch em all," most readers try to get to just the right ones. Who wants to get to the end of the book and think, "I should have spent that time cleaning the garage"? It's happened to me (I'm looking at you, Jodi Picoult). And I hate that.
It was an intimate class this summer, with only eight students, so we got to know each other pretty well over our five short weeks together. As I read through the final set of essays, I was reminded again of how much I learn when I teach this class, of how much professors like me can miss when we assess books professionally. Here's the truth: Novels are bigger, more capacious, unrulier than we give them credit for. They are more than collections of beautiful sentences, well-wrought structures, or striking ideas. They are more than their genre or period, culture or nation. More, even, than their authors.
My students wrote about how the books we read helped them to escape to different times and places, find solace in this challenging time, revisit significant childhood friendships, understand social issues better, stretch their imaginations, find their places in the world, and connect with characters they were sure they wouldn't like--until they did. They wrote about how they love to read, and read constantly, or how they prefer dystopia, fan fiction or manga over literary novels, or how they seldom read and often don't enjoy it.
They were a diverse bunch, these St. Kate's women. But they reminded me that finding the right book for the right moment is a constant quest, one that I aim to send every liberal arts graduate who crosses my path on. To do this, I offer them my "READ IT" tool (more on that in the weeks ahead), that compiles and defines the qualities both readers and critics most often look for in books.
Here's hoping that, even after the class ends, my summer readers pursue their quest with the enthusiasm of the Pokemon trainers currently roaming my neighborhood.
Because who wants another Weedle when there are Jigglypuffs to be found?
Gotta catch the gems. Go Team Readers!
What are you reading this summer?
And FYI: Here is a link to a recent article in our alumnae magazine, all about summer book recommendations: Read This!