A Good Summer Read

I’m writing this Lifestyle Letter shortly after having a ‘conversation’ about summer reading assignments with a rising fourth-grader who happens to live in my house.

I was trying to explain to this guy that he only needed to read 10 pages daily for a couple of weeks or so to complete the assignment before our trip to the beach. Of course my polite suggestion was met with all sorts of rage and resistance and, ultimately, this tone-drenched question that any parent could see coming from 10 miles away:

“Why do I have to do this?”

“Because you’re good enough.”

And then there were crickets.

I chalked up his lack of a response as a personal triumph; one that I’m not sure my parents ever experienced with me.

And that’s the way it goes when it’s time to go back to school. On one hand you can’t blame kids for not embracing anything academic in a four-letter month. They’d rather eat sprouts. On the other, you have to help them understand that school never really is “out,” and that for as long as they live, there will be knowledge to be acquired.

The truth of the matter is that I shared my son’s enthusiasm for summer reading. One year my class had to read Michael Crichton’s The Great Train Robbery. What I remember most about the assignment was my discovery of CliffsNotes about a week before the first day of class.

And that’s all I remember about summer reading. I cannot recall a single other assignment. But it’s worth noting that, years later, after college, I saw a copy of The Great Train Robbery in a store and decided to buy it. Just to see what I had been missing.

You know what? It’s a really good story! So I went out and bought several other Crichton novels and read them all.

I suppose that was the point of the assignment all along.