Every year at this time I think about compiling a summer reading list. I was trained to do this and now it’s a habit.
My older brother, Ed, just before summer vacation began, would walk me up the hill to the public library. There he would help me choose a handful of books to read over the summer. I was seven or eight back then when this annual ritual started.
Ed was then and still is a great reader. He reads a lot and a lot of variety. Because he also has a great memory, Ed is really well informed.
Even back then, Ed had a gift for selecting books that I would enjoy and learn something from, too.
The Sunset District library did not have the world’s largest collection, but it had plenty for Ed to rifle through and pick some winners.
“Ray Bradbury would be great for you,” he said. “Let’s try Martian Chronicles. If you like that one, Dandelion Wine would be fantastic.”
Ray Bradbury was great. Dandelion Wine remains one of favorite novels.
Ed also introduced me to short stories. “Have you ever read any Saki?” he asked. I had not. “Here, listen to this one.” Ed read me “The Open Window.” I was hooked again.
Ed helped me assemble a stack of books to lug home. He’d ask me how I liked them as I made my way through each volume, and give me a bit of background on the author and how these works came to be.
I tried to read some poetry, and struggled with the meanings of some of the verse. When I asked Ed what it meant—what the author meant—he cleared it all up for me.
He said, “What did the author mean? Who cares? What does it mean to you?” Ah, so that’s how this works.
I tried reading hard stuff. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison worked me. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee crushed me. And the Russian novels—cold, cold, cold; potatoes, potatoes, potatoes.
I don’t remember everything I read, but I do remember that Ed steered me to great books that I loved to read, and turned me into a reader.
A while ago, at a dinner at friends’ house, the host complained that my wife and I don’t ever just sit still. I argued the contrary. “I read 300 books last year.” And when I went back and counted them up, I had.
Even now, decades later, around the middle of May, I get a funny feeling that I should be heading to the library.
Take your niece to the library. Pick out a few volumes that you like and that you think she will like.
Start a habit.

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