The little reader, reading @newtonfreelibrary

One of the things that always makes me eager to finish my end-term grading piles are the piles of books I’ve stockpiled for summer. You might think grading piles of exams and essays would make me grow sour on reading, but actually the opposite is true. The more student writing I read, the more I want to immerse myself in writing done by professionals.

To me, reading is like watering a plant. It’s true that my brain won’t die if I don’t read books, essays, and articles on a wide range of topics, but I sincerely believe it will start to shrivel. Throughout the semester, I try to read at least a little bit every day, and I intentionally try to be as eclectic as possible in my choices. The point of reading isn’t to underscore the things you already know; it’s to stretch your thinking in new directions.

Elliptical staircase

I make a habit of keeping my phone nearby when I listen to public radio so I can quickly lookup and add to my Goodreads “to-read” list (and then request from the library) any titles mentioned that pique my curiosity, and I do the same whenever I watch or read the news. The people I most admire are the ones who never stop learning, and the way I feed my inner lifelong learner is through a long queue of library books.

I encounter a surprising number of would-be writers who claim they hate to read, arguing that reading others’ work will only drown out their own voice. To me, this is a ludicrous claim. Writers improve not through isolation but immersion. Just as would-be musicians can easily name their favorite bands, would-be writers should be well-versed in the words and ideas of others. Writing isn’t about speaking into a vacuum; it’s about jumping into a conversation, so it helps to be well-read (and thus well-conversant) on a variety of topics.

Origami cranes from above

So, what’s currently on my reading pile? At the moment I’m hurrying to finish Elizabeth Warren’s latest book before it’s due back at the library, and I’m looking forward to the other checkouts in my bag: Perfect Strangers, Roseann Sdoia’s memoir of the Boston Marathon bombing; Born a Crime, Trevor Noah’s memoir from his South African childhood; and The Nature Fix, Florence Williams’ exploration of the science behind nature’s curative powers. After that, I’ll read whichever of the books I’ve requested from the library shows up first: a series of summer surprises to keep my brain fed until fall.

Cosmic kitty

Yesterday afternoon I submitted end-term grades for my latest online term…and just like that, my summer has officially started. For the next two months, I’m not teaching anywhere: not face-to-face, and not online. For the next two months, I’m officially “off.”

Green goblin

It’s been years since I’ve had a summer off: that’s one of the harsh realities of being an adjunct instructor. My face-to-face and online semesters, taught for different institutions, typically overlap, so apart from a week in the summer and a few weeks in December, I teach year-round. Because the typical semester involves a grading-grind at its end and a flurry of preparation at its beginning, having a week or two off between semesters is never enough downtime. By the time you finish grading last semester’s papers, you have to turn around to prep next semester’s classes.

This year, I made a conscious decision not to teach any face-to-face summer school classes at Keene State. Although it’s nice to have some summer income, I’ve been looking forward to a few months of not making a weekly commute between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. When I decided not to teach summer school at Keene State this year, I had envisioned teaching online throughout the summer, as I typically do…but it turns out SNHU Online doesn’t need me to teach this term. So quite by accident–in the way adjunct instructors’ course schedules are always contingent on chance–I won’t be teaching anywhere until the end of August.

Wayne Rooney & MR

When I first found out I’d be unemployed for two solid summer months, I was initially anxious: how will I pay the bills while I don’t have any paychecks coming in, and will one unemployed term lead to others? But my almost immediate second reaction was relief. I really need a break from the juggling act of teaching at multiple institutions, and two months completely off from teaching will be an unimaginable luxury. Full-time professors have their summer months to unwind from teaching, and tenured professors get sabbaticals. These next two months are the closest thing I get to a vacation or sabbatical: a time to recharge the proverbial batteries.

Given the next few months of downtime, what am I looking forward to the most? Being able to read anything I want, instead of reading stacks of student papers. Earlier this week, I finished Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I’d started last week; last night, I finished reading Jackie MacMullan’s When the Game Was Ours, which I’d started at the beginning of the NBA Finals; and this morning I finished Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory, which I’d started sometime last semester. After spending so many months with barely enough time to keep up with my teeming paper-piles, it feels great to start and finish reading entire books.

Ca$h for your Warhol

This morning, facing the question of What To Read Next, I simply stood in front of my bookshelves until something (in this case, Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw) said “Read me.” It’s tempting to make lists of what I “want” to (or “should”) read over the summer, but right now I’m letting my heart guide me. It’s not a matter of accomplishing anything or checking anything off a list; it’s a matter of finding something that interests, intrigues, and even entertains. During these next few months of precious downtime, I don’t want to waste a single minute trying to be too productive.

Today’s pictures come from a Sunday stroll through Central Square, Cambridge. Enjoy!

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