Summer Reading Crashes Party; 2 Injured

If this book is on your child's summer reading list, you need to run for school board.

Gah! I almost forgot about summer reading!

I’ve been planning my summer with the precision of a CIA operation. My calendar is color-coded now, despite 14 years I spent making fun of a woman I knew in DC who used to color-code her refrigerator calendar. I am her, now.

We have a super busy summer, including but not limited to out-of-town visitors, a big vacation, some college visits, a summer institute in New York, a wisdom tooth operation, driver’s ed, summer school, audition preparations, and more, much more. I began to run out of the main colors and had to go to “light brown” and “rose” to keep things straight.

Most of these things are for my daughter, my last child at home. If your kids are still small and you think that as children get older your parenting duties will gradually reduce in number and importance, you are dead wrong. Parenting builds to a bulging, bloated mess as your children get to 9th, 10th and 11th grades. And then from what I can foresee, around senior year, the abscess bursts and spews a geyser of unsigned paperwork, frantic deadlines, inexperienced-driver-fender-benders, tears and moans, yelling, threats, calls to the guidance office, papers that require a notary’s stamp, I-wish-you-weren’t-my-mothers, and Why-can’t-you-be-more-like-I-was-when-I-was-in-high-schools. Makes you want to trade it all in and go back to stomach-flu diapers and baby food meat in a jar.

So I was on it, I was so on it, with my color-coded calendar, which I can share with my husband electronically. I’m telling you I was On. It.

And then this morning I remembered: (cue scary music - duhnt duhnt duhhhhhh) Summer Reading. My daughter has a couple of AP classes next year, so it’s likely that she’ll have more summer reading than just a handful of books for English. And even though the summer hasn’t officially started yet, I think we might be already behind in getting the books.  Some years, I’ve gone to the book store and found that the only summer reading books left are the ones that are not the same books as the ones they’re supposed to read. Book store employees don’t understand that you can’t substitute Crime and Punishment with a James Patterson novel.

I am all for summer reading. As long as it’s worth going to all the trouble. I am for summer reading that is The Scarlet Letter, Anna Karenina, or even The Canterbury Tales (even though it’s full of sex. I read it in high school and I can still remember looking up from the book in Mr. Hurst’s study hall and going, What the hell? I later concluded I was interpreting it wrong and my mind was in the gutter.).

I am not in favor of summer reading that doesn’t accomplish what summer reading is supposed to do: Get teenagers to read the good stuff. One year, my son brought home the summer reading list and there was a list of books from which they got to choose. One of the choices was a John Grisham book. I called the school to complain and was told by an English teacher, “Well, it’s not great literature but at least they’re reading.”

No, ma’am. See, with summer reading you get to make them read literature. You don’t ever want to let a high school kid choose which book he’s going to read. Summer reading is one of the few times when you don’t have to let them decide, you get to hand them a list and say, “Read this. Now. Or else.” It’s worked fine for generations, why start coddling them and catering to their lazy teenage ways now?

I have some vague memories of summer reading when I was in high school. The Greek Way and The Roman Way are the only ones I can remember, maybe because the others I frantically raced through days before the first day of school. Mrs. Gray was very into projects and acting things out, so we often had to dress in costumes and write little playlets about the books we had read, instead of taking tests and writing reports. I have a fuzzy memory of Barb Ruby, Gene Hazy and myself playing the roles of semi-precious stones. I was beryl. I’m sure there was an explanation for this.

I am happy to report that my daughter will be reading Crime and Punishment and The Great Gatsby this summer. The teacher also is encouraging them to read nine books that they’ll be studying during the school year. None are John Grisham books.

Now added to my calendar: Buy Crime and Punishment and The Great Gatsby. In turquoise.

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