Every summer we readers gravitate toward easy reading books: mysteries, romances, page-turners, quick reads. The approach seems to be that the mind wants a vacation, too, from more difficult, thoughtful reading.
I’ve read more than my share of Grisham, Brown and others in the summer. There’s nothing like a quick read, an entertaining mystery, a pot-boiling romance at the beach, mountains or on the plane.
But if the summer means we move a little more slowly and life is a little more lazy, this could suggest that the book-lover turn a few less pages and do so more thoughtfully.
The thoughtful reader need not abandon the quick read. There is something quite satisfying about plowing through 50 or 100 pages at a sitting. But why not simply add another book alongside the easy read?
I found on my bookshelf the Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s “Life and Holiness.” Written in 1963 by one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century, this 119-page book is still in print, available in paper or on eBook. It won’t gobble up much space in your suitcase or beach bag if you’re traveling.
Merton’s chapters are short. Most of them are 3-4 pages. His writing is clear and succinct. But his thoughts are deep. I have been reading a chapter a day. I do that reading in the morning when I am fresh. I suppose if I set myself to it, I could read the whole book in a week or less easily. But I’m in no hurry. The goal is not to finish this book quickly.
It doesn’t take long to read a 3-4-page chapter, but Merton gives the reader much to savor and contemplate in a few paragraphs. What he writes about God and us and holy living is as fresh as when it was written over half a century ago.
Merton warns (page 19) of “… a superficial religiosity without deep roots and without fruitful relation to the needs of (people) and society …” These few words gave me pause to consider my own Christian walk and that of the church. I can stop reading and start thinking.
Merton may not be your cup of tea. I have been drawn over the years to this exceptional Christian contemplative, but perhaps you have another writer who speaks meaningfully. Choose somebody who suits you. Ask around. A particular writer is not as important as the point I’m trying to make: A reader doesn’t have to give up on prayerful, careful reading during the summertime.
Find somebody who will make you think. Find somebody who will require that you read slowly. Do that reading while you’re fresh. Then read the potboiler later in the day.
Long after the sunburn has healed and the sand has disappeared from between your toes, long after you have forgotten the details of that whodunit, your life will be subtly or dramatically changed by summer reading of a more substantial nature.