With the arrival of Labor Day, this year’s summer reading season officially draws to a close. The long holiday weekend has offered a good opportunity to finish up some of those beach reads that are yet to be opened, although a lot of us will probably come to the close of this holiday with a stack of summer reads left unread. The summer reading season, like summer itself, never lasts as long as we think it will. Nor do we ever read as much as we think we will over the vacation months.
Consider the case of President Obama, whose summer reading list included “The Bayou Trilogy,” a series of three detective novels by Daniel Woodrell, along with three other novels and “The Warmth of Other Suns,” Isabel Wilkerson’s nonfiction narrative of the 20th century migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the industrial North. The president had planned a 10-day summer vacation that was interrupted by briefings about Libya and the economy, and was eventually cut short by a day because of Hurricane Irene. Does anyone believe Obama read even half of what he wanted to during his time off?
Most of us know the feeling, which is why the end of summer reading season can be so sad. But there’s hope. Here are five reasons to shake off the end-of-summer blues and embrace the autumn reading season instead:
1. Nobody said that the fun has to end. The summer reading season is a tradition, not a law. Just because the calendar has turned a page to September, there’s no reason to stop reading those beach books you bought or borrowed with such great anticipation. Right now, I’m in the middle of reading “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” a great summer read that will not, alas, turn into a pumpkin at midnight on the morning after Labor Day.
2. Autumn’s an even better time to read outside. Beach reading gets a lot of promotion, but the weather’s hot and sticky, and the blazing sun doesn’t make the best reading lamp. The softer light of fall, and the cooler weather, can make an autumn afternoon on the patio with a good book a great joy.
3. With fall, the books can get longer. In summer, we like compact, breezy reading, but in autumn, we’re more comfortable with books that don’t have to fit so easily into a beach bag. An advance reader’s copy of Robert Hughes’ “Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History,” has just crossed my desk, and at 512 pages, it’s the sort of book not quite at home in summer, but ideally timed for its Nov. 2 release date. In autumn and winter, we warm to bigger books that we can live within for a time, and the arrival of fall reminds us of why such big reads can be so special.
4) Autumn gives readers permission to be just a little more serious. In November, Alfred A. Knopf will publish “Blue Nights,” Joan Didion’s account of the death of her daughter. This isn’t the kind of book that might automatically resonate with summer readers, but in the fall, we feel more at ease in exploring darker themes in literature. Beach reads are fun, but a year-round diet of them would be pretty thin gruel.
5) In fall, books usually don’t have to compete with the landscape for attention. In summer, the printed page must compete with the seaside views or mountain vista in gaining a reader’s attention. But with fall, most of us are back at home with the suitcases on the shelf, and not greatly distracted by the view from our window. We can focus more deeply on landscapes that aren’t physical, but mental – the new worlds revealed in the pages of a perfect autumn book. —