Summer Reading

I've always liked lists. I make them, read them, and as Emily Dickinson did with her poems, often tuck them away in pockets and drawers. So the American Film Institute's list of 100 best movies, released just the other week, grabbed my attention. It now sits next to my VCR, ready for a quick look before renting that next video. Another "100 Best" list that I keep close by is a gem of a book by Santa Fe, N.M., writer John Villani. It's called "The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America."

Mr. Villani's book only gives a snapshot of small towns emerging on the US culture map - places like Bisbee, Ariz., Berea, Ky., and Twisp, Wash. But when I get the itch to travel, I pick it up and dream about visiting all 100 of those places. It's especially heartening to learn how the arts have revived the economies of so many sleepy communities across America.

Another book that's chock-full of good ideas for cultural travel is "Little Museums: Over 1,000 Small (and Not-So-Small) American Showplaces," by Lynne Arany and Archie Hobson. From the lovely Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., to the lively Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Miss., or the kitschy Jell-O Museum in Le Roy, N.Y., this new guide offers something for everyone.

No doubt you've also come across a few ideas for quenching your thirst for culture this summer.

Or perhaps you don't care. You'd rather flake out at the beach than take in a concert, exhibit, dance, or even a movie. But I doubt it. We all seem to crave cultural enrichment at some level. Why? It gives us respite from our cares, perspective on our lives, and helps us embrace every day more fully.

The arts can also awaken the artist in us. That's nothing to take lightly. In his inspirational "The Art Spirit," teacher and artist Robert Henri wrote: "When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature."

Not a bad goal for summer.

* 'The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America' s published by John Muir Publications; 'Little Museums' by Henry Holt &Co.; and 'The Art Spirit,' by Harper & Row Publishers. The American Film Institute's list of 100 best movies appeared in the Monitor on June 19, and David Sterritt's comments about the list ran on June 26. E-mail your comments to

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