What happened to that semi-sacred reading space during the golden months?


A few years ago, in the Boston Globe, Craig Fehrman wrote an amusing piece about the origins of the summer reading list in the late 19th century. He connected it to the rise of the American vacation. A growing middle class meant the advent of leisure time, and these developments coincided with the desire of working Americans to escape the increasingly routinized nature of their jobs.

The emphasis at that time was on light reading, on diversionary texts that would relieve the harried mind. Mr. Fehrman quotes from an article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 1872 that recommended summer books which “the idler can take with him into solitude, and read with delightful pauses, when with indolent finger upon the page, his eye wanders up some green vista, or catches some view of the distant sea, and his ear is soothed with the distant murmur of the winds and waves.” In other words, if you’re too distracted to read, bring along a book that will not make you feel guilty if you never finish it. […]

And what did it matter if you never finished any of these books, if a lot of people picked up Tolstoy’s classic summer after summer and never got through the peace part to the war part? The idea of perfecting your inner life by reading the right books over the summer was as much a chimera as the idea of the perfect summer.

Still, looking forward to that spell of leisure and self-edification got you through the winter, and it consoled you with the illusion of a replenishing pause, outside the frame of mortal space and time. The Summer Book will always be with me. Even now, as my indolent finger falls upon a page of Gibbon’s masterwork on the Roman empire (summers of 1975-76, 1978-80, 2014-15, status: pending), winter’s workaday grind and piles of snow seem far, far away.

~ Lee Siegel, The End of the Ambitious Summer Reading ListFor generations, Americans used the golden months to catch up on great old books and modern must reads. What happened to that semi-sacred reading space?


  1. It isn’t just the summer though, is it? It seems to me that too many people don’t read at all. In my opinion, one person would be far too many in that category.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Oh ho … Here I am on a saturday afternoon in the summer. Before portable technology I would read lighthearted books… And now I’m on my iPad reading blogs and playing Words with Friends. I never realized this until you posted today …

    Liked by 2 people

  3. i love summer reading, attacking my pile, all the while adding new ones on top. it feels like balance to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. After a stress-filled 7 months I have dust on my books bought with Christmas gift card money — but I also have water spots on them from reading pool-side. There’s something about summer that invites a lazy, delicious read with a summer breeze, some yummy fruit and sunshine pinching your shoulders 🙂 (( and for that reason, I’m cooking dinner now so I can head outside with an armful of books later ))

    Cheers! MJ

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s pretty terrifying that reading in and of itself seems to be falling by the wayside. Great post! Definitely following. Thanks for sharing!

    If you’re ever interested in some other great book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My mom took us to the library every summer to get a load of books to take on our vacations and camping trips. Summer reading in every genre. Great post!!

    Liked by 1 person

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