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The Importance of Summer Reading In a time of COVID-19

In September 2019, the Pew Research Center reported that 27 percent of adults had not read a book – in print or online – within the past year. However, this summer of quarantine and sheltering in place is allowing more adults free time at home. One of the ways they are spending that time is reading. Amy Watson, in her research Coronavirus and reading habits in the U.S. 2020, by generation published June 18, 2020 finds that with the COVID–19 pandemic, adults across all generations, from Boomers to Generation Z, are reading more than before.

Now is a time unlike any other to start a summer reading program. While it can be argued that reading allows individuals a better chance at learning real facts and figures instead of blindly following memes or “fake news” cries, reading for pleasure and enlightenment has the potential to literally take you away to another place and time. Reading can be inspirational, motivational, or simply an escape from the worries of the world.

A summer reading program is an old concept. The American Library Association notes that “summer reading programs began in the 1890s as a way to encourage school children, particularly those in urban areas and not needed for farm work, to read during their summer vacation, use the library and develop the habit of reading.”

In Battle Creek, Michigan, like many other communities, the local library had a “bookmobile” that brought books to parking lots throughout the area so that children who couldn’t find transportation to the main library branch downtown could select books to read over the summer. I myself remember entering the air-conditioned behemoth weekly to select a number of books that would provide quiet entertainment and the opportunity to live in another place other than my own small, blue-collar town. The bookmobile was my summer refuge.

While nationwide many of the bookmobile services have ended due to cost and lack of use (the Institute of Museum and Library Services notes that at peak, nearly 1,000 bookmobiles were operating in the United States, down to fewer than 650 in 2015), local libraries are working to ensure access to books during quarantine.. With innovative programs that allow for e-books and tablet readers, to curbside pickup and Zoom book clubs, adults and children have greater access to reading materials than before. If you Google “book clubs”, you will see many virtual clubs across a wide range of interests. From a group that reads Tolstoy at a slow pace together, to celebrity clubs like Reece Witherspoon’s Instagram group, there is surely a club that will tickle your fancy. If not, there is no time like the present to start your own.

To start, set a goal on the number of books you can realistically finish. Create a list of titles, share them with others to hold yourself accountable, and cross them off when finished. If you are looking for what to read, consider titles from the New York Times Bestsellers List, book critic Maureen Coorigan, and whatever recommends based on your previous reading. Try to have a couple easy, breezy beach reads, a few challenging books and one or two biographies or autobiographies thrown in. Maybe you’d like to live in a gossipy age of Golden Hollywood with David Niven’s The Moon’s a Balloon? Or pick up a new skill with Dan Harris’ 10% Happier? Or maybe read a book that should be mandatory reading for all high school students to teach them empathy, Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier? Allow yourself to put a book down mid-way through if you just aren’t enjoying it, and try again. Hint: offers the first chapter in many of their books for you to read and see if it’s worth buying or getting from your local library.

Barbara Delinsky’s A Week at the Shore is a perfect breezy beach read. Taking place at the ocean, there’s family heartache, a reclaimed love, and a bit of a mystery to solve. Her descriptions of the local small town, the inhabitants, and the beach itself will easily transport you away from your hot apartment or house to a place where you can almost hear the seagulls and feel the salty breeze in your hair. It is everything you would want to take you away to a vacation spot when, due to COVID-19, you can’t easily travel to your own summer vacation getaway.

What is next on your summer reading list?

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