Just because you decide that you might cut your losses ahead of time and not even start Moby Dick doesn’t necessarily mean summer isn't a good time to read the classics. Maybe just not the classics you’re thinking of though.
I have started up the habit of using summer to catch up on a canon of pop literature I call the classics-lite: serious literature that's on the lighter side. The sort of thing your high school teacher never assigned, but that a hipster college TA maybe did. One summer, for instance, I decided to finally pick up Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, with its grimy New York that's hardly like the city I live in. I've sweated through Neely O'Hara's pill addiction in Valley of the Dolls, and Portnoy's experimentation with liver in Portnoy's Complaint. None of these are particularly hard reads, nor are they important in the way literature professors consider Tolstoy important, but they are touchstones that I felt I had missed. And, frankly, reading these books is better than twiddling your thumbs in a humid apartment.
Of course, your classics-lite are not the same as my classics-lite, but I define them as such: Books you don't feel particularly daunting but you’ve always meant to read and, perhaps most importantly, feel like a blind spot in your sense of cultural history. If you're a sci-fi fan but somehow missed Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series, then make that your summer project. Or you could use the summer to catch up on the young adult fiction you missed reading in your younger years. I'm not talking about picking up the Hunger Games. Maybe you never read Ender's Game. Maybe you missed The Giver. Then again, maybe you do want to try a notoriously intimidating author's work, but in a manageable context. So you decide to read Dubliners instead of Ulysses. You want to read a Russian but you stick to Chekhov's short stories instead of Tolstoy's doorstoppers. You want to read a tale of the American South, so you opt for Carson McCullers over incomprehensible William Faulkner. You pick up the Hemingway you never read in school; the Steinbeck you somehow thought was outdated (it isn't).
Maybe its the holdover from our days doing summer reading, but summer feels like a good time to educate ourselves. But we're grown ups now, and we should do it on our own terms. So if you, like me, don't find yourself enjoying how many hundreds of pages you have left, pick up something that's—well—lighter.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.