What is it about summer? The name itself slides off my tongue with a sibilant murmur and reminds me of the cool tender grass I would lie in as a girl, looking up through the trees and the dappling sunshine, letting my mind drift along with the breeze. The school calendar gave a sense of holiness to this season as well with the defined end of enforced learning and the initiation of a period when the mind and taste was free to explore on its own. I spent most of the day out of doors, in the quiet country area where I grew up; hanging out in the barn with the dusty scent of hay and horse, wandering along the creek in the “bottom field” (which was a bit daring as I wasn’t supposed to be there unsupervised) or just generally running about in the large backyard, usually with a dog or cat at my heels. But summertime was most blessedly the time when I could immerse myself fully and guilt-free in whatever reading matter my heart desired.
I read voraciously all year but there was something special about those relaxed weeks in the summer months when I didn’t have to read something for someone else’s agenda. I was determined to read whatever I wanted the year around but during the school months this often meant reading after “lights out” by the scant illumination of a flashlight or 4 watt nightlight bulb – heaven knows how I have any eyes left at all. There was homework for one, after school activities of another and then there was the required reading my mother set for me as she guided me through the classics. Summer represented a time when the pressure was off and I could feel the relief exhaling through every cell and fiber and the freedom to explore was a tangible force. I don’t know if it was simply the relief from looming deadlines and expectations or delayed gratification but the reading I consumed during the summers always tasted sweeter, more intense and was better remembered.
It wasn’t all light reading – in fact it rarely was. There was the summer I devoured Dickens and another in which I read nothing but Russian authors. And there was the high school summer I immersed myself in the American Civil War via Andersonville, an experience so searing I haven’t repeated it. Generally I read my favorite books again at some point, but Andersonville has remained closed. It was a shock to dive into that visceral, carnivorous world and re-emerge into a warm world where sprinklers whirred, lawn mowers growled distantly and the sun beat down on my towel-draped chair. I don’t know if it was the book itself but it was summer and in my experience everything tasted during those few months is intensified.
So as the days lengthen, and the sun warms more and the school calendars begin to wind down I send this wish out to everyone – go out and feel the grass, absorb the warmth, inhale the smells, the light and the sounds of this season.
And lose yourself in another world.