There Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime Blues
Posted by: Neil Hollands
I’m a summertime scrooge. The climate here in Williamsburg is brutal this time of year, all humidity, bugs, and thunderstorms, but the weather isn’t really my issue. What really gets me steamed is the annual campaign for “beach books” and “light summer reading.” With the high glare, sand and moisture, I’ve never thought of the beach as much of a reading location, and when I’m there, I don’t see many people reading, except perhaps as a means to induce sleep.
My own reading habits hardly put me in the category of ivory tower snob, but I can look at the bestseller list or at the circulation of various displays in my library and see that no matter what the time of year, the market for easy, exciting books that don’t require much from the reader is high. I get that: it’s a demanding world and we all welcome diversions. Life is busy and sometimes we need books that can go down in quickly gulped, easily digested chunks. It’s not the individual readers we should judge.
It doesn’t follow, however, that an entire season needs to be dedicated to light and frothy reading. Nowadays, our culture hardly needs an invitation to dumb itself down, and frankly it’s difficult to simplify much more beyond the mainstream of the rest of the year. When librarians build displays of “Beach Reads,” we give more advertising to the obvious candidates, books that were already circulating well. Sometimes it seems to me that all we’re doing is helping to deplete an already overtaxed portion of the collection during the period of our highest circulation.
When it comes to culture, I do believe in giving people access to what they want, but does that mean we have to promote what is already popular? Readers also want to be made aware of great choices that remain beneath their radar. While there’s an important place for frothy fun in the summertime, it’s also a time of year when many have more time for big or challenging books. It’s a great season to cultivate new hobbies, a time to promote travel, outdoor activities, and a hundred other interests.
Our staff library book group gave its most recent meeting over to light, summer reading. I went in skeptical, but the results gave me some hope. What is “light” and “fun” is very much a question of perspective, as our choices for this meeting help to prove. In my posts next week I’ll highlight some of the disparate choices that came to the table as “summertime reads.”