Every summer I read Dorothy Sayers’ mystery Gaudy Night. I look forward to it as I looked forward to swimming, lightning bugs, thunderstorms, and watermelon as a young girl growing up in central Ohio. The book is filled with complex characters and intricate plots, literary quotes and allusions, and foreign phrases and scholarly terms that challenge my thinking. I enjoy trying to discern the author’s voice in the comments of the narrator and various characters, and it’s just plain fun to read the story.
Do you have a favorite book that you like to read regularly? Summertime can be the best time to revisit familiar friends in the pages of a book. For those of us who are homeschooling through high school, summer vacation can also be a good time to prepare for the upcoming school year. By diving into The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, or Paradise Lost on our own in the more relaxed days of summer, we can sharpen our reading skills and be better equipped to go into greater depth during the school year when we study the literature with our children.
If those great books sound a bit too challenging, why not try the lighter fare offered in a children’s version to become better acquainted with the characters and elements of the stories? Rosemary Sutcliff’s “Black Ships Before Troy” and “The Wanderings of Odysseus,” as well as Penelope Lively’s “In Search of a Homeland,” provide wonderful introductions to the ancient tales told by Homer and Virgil. They make great read alouds too.
In fact, reading aloud is an excellent way to expose the entire family to books that will be part of your high school studies. If the school year is too crowded with activities to sit down as a family, summertime may offer more opportunities to experience some literary adventures together. Our family favorites include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Phantom Tollbooth. We also enjoy The Hobbit and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia. Reading these books every few years provides us with a base of shared experiences and gives us something to look forward to as a family again and again.
The adventure doesn’t need to stop there though. The more intellectual among us might enjoy delving into theological discussions. If so, Mere Christianity is a good place to start. Originally presented as a series of radio lectures, C. S. Lewis’ messages are meant to be heard. If you want a break from books, why not hold a movie night and watch an adaptation of a Shakespeare play or sit down for some old-fashioned fun with Harvey or Arsenic and Old Lace? Elwood P. Dowd and Mortimer Brewster have become friends of our family through the lighthearted performances by James Stewart and Cary Grant.
Early in Gaudy Night, Harriet Vane attends an Oxford reunion and encounters a “drab and ill-dressed woman” who she recalls was “very brilliant, very smart, very lively and the outstanding scholar of her year.” The woman is only two years senior to Harriet but admits that a hard yet worthwhile life as a farmer’s wife and a mother have made her look twenty years older. Harriet departs “with a depressed feeling that she had seen a Derby winner making shift with a coal-cart” and later reflects on the woman’s “melancholy lament of eternal loss: ‘Once I was a scholar.’ ”
Summer reading can give us just the advantage we need as we’ve set aside the coal-cart for the season and can trot around the track a few times to prepare for the upcoming work in the school year ahead. These summer jaunts into literature can help us avoid feeling old and worn out after a long, hard school day. Instead, we can experience lively, brilliant days of learning simply because we are more fit for the task, having exercised our minds through reading or by reading ahead to become familiar with the material. It’s summertime, the living is easy…and the reading is easier. Let’s relax and enjoy a good book.