2016: A Summer For Reading

Summer is here, accompanied by freedom and bliss. I think we all know the feeling. After months of stretching our thinking to its furthest abilities, aided only be energy drinks, coffee, sugar and exorbitant amounts of take out, we all require different treatments for recovery. Over the course of the summer’s recover period it may well be that new approaches are required, as our moods and needs change. The perfect method is reading: whether magazines, novels, manuals or poetry, there is something out there for everybody at any time. And the upshot? It is incredibly cheap.

At the start of the holidays I’m surely not the only one who instinctively believes they are sick and tired of reading, after having virtually done it endlessly throughout the semester. But there are ways other than binge-watching all 12 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. Why not indulge yourself by reading? Throughout the year we have been told what to read and when to read it. Now, that is completely up to yourself. Have you denied yourself the gossipy VIP magazines for too long? This is your chance to catch up. Celebrities not really your cup of tea? Why not immerse yourself in the intricacies and plotting of Game of Thrones? If the 1000-page long sagas are too much for you, I would recommend you try some short but sweet short stories. Alice Munro’s Nobel prize winning collection Runaway is bound to enthrall you just as Chimamanda Adichie’s collection The Thing Around Your Neck will make you fly from one story to the next.

If these are perhaps too intense for you right at the start of the holidays, there are always the classic historical dramas like Ken Follett’s Centuries Trilogy that will transport you to a time of danger, romance and intrigue whilst letting you pretend to be learning some history. Don’t need to trick yourself you’re being intelligent? Then stick with the bog standard (but oh so tempting) romance novels, like Nicholas Spark’s The Notebook, David Nicholl’s One Day and Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project just to list a few. Feeling frisky and still not read 50 Shades of Grey? Well, nobody is stopping you! If this is all a bit too lovey-dovey for you, why not read the bitingly sarcastic Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz. If you’re just feeling worn out and don’t have the energy to try something new and are perhaps feeling nostalgic for the times when everything was so much simpler, why not transport yourself back to those times? The best way to do that is reading things you used to love and enjoying them all over again. My personal nostalgia trip will always involve Harry Potter, Roald Dahl’s The BFG and, as embarrassing as this is to admit, The Princess Diaries. Delving even further back, I’m sure many would join me in loving Captain Underpants, Narnia and Wind in the Willows.

For many people, the summer is a time to travel, as long as they can afford it. Now why not make the most of it and enhance the experience by reading? If you are going somewhere, why not find out about it? This could include reading the news to understand the current affairs of the place, reading travel guides or travel books (Bill Bryson is a great author to look out for) or scouring maps. All too intellectual? Then my personal approach is always to read novels set in the place (current or historical fiction) or finding local novels that (if necessary) have been translated into English. This way, you might have a deeper understanding of the place to enrich your experience whilst you are there!

Travelling to exotic places is obviously a privilege that comes with money and one not every has… Good thing that we have books: they will transport you to different times and places, ones that mirror reality or create their own. You will meet people you would never encounter and share adventures you could never truly have. Delve into a fantastical, magical world by reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and I promise you, this is a novel not just for fantasy lovers, but accessible and immersing for any reader. Imagine yourself in the skin of Maya Angelou as a little girl by reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Travel as an escaped Australian prisoner through India and the Middle East in Gregory David Robert’s Shantaram and from a past to a future mysteriously connected in Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

At a certain point in the holidays, it will hit you: I actually miss seeing people, my brain cells working and the sense of adrenaline at a new experience.  The first problem, feeling lonely, can easily be resolved. It is a commonly held belief that reading is a ‘solo experience’, but who said that never read to anybody else. There are so many people who you could make happy by reading to them. Why not take the time to read for children or the elderly? I guarantee you would brighten their day as well as your own. You could also always join a book club: a great place to meet new people, have a laugh, or maybe even a highly overdue argument to let off some steam. If engaging with other humans is too much to ask, you could always go somewhere busy, like a sunny park, without the pressure of social interaction.

Can you feel your brain shrinking already due to a lack of stimulation? Used to thinking too hard and too much all year, summer initially feels like a great escape. But three months is a long time and after a while I’m surely not the only one who starts feeling bored out of their mind. So why not set yourself a challenge? Push your mind to the limits in a positive way. My personal approach is to make reading the actual challenge by making a reading list based on a specific criterion, which could be anything from poetry collection, literary genres or time periods or classical novels. One idea could be to engage in philosophical ideas by reading books such as Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being or John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Or you could explore the challenges people faced in the last decade with the help of World War 1 poetry collections, Elie Wiesel’s Night, Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried or Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone.

Not everybody has the same tastes and hobbies (thankfully: the world would be such a boring place!). So create your own challenge and let reading help you. Undoubtedly there will be some hobby you have always wanted to try, something you have always wanted to build or learn about, books you have always wanted to read but been too preoccupied to take the time for. So get reading. Whether it is manuals for building your own bike, newspapers to learn about what is happening in the world, fictional books on physics or psychology: it doesn’t matter.

When it comes to reading, the options are limitless. You can pick and choose what you like and tailor the experience to your personal whims and interests. Whether reading gets you off of the sofa, traps you there or lets your mind travel to unexplored terrain, enjoy it. Let 2016 be the year in which reading shapes and enriches your summer’s experiences.

[Kirsty Campbell]

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