In my time, I’ve learned that whenever you finish something you find yourself looking back, especially to where it started. My declaration that I was going to take on a “reading project” of books that involved travel started with a clearance rack at Borders Books and Music. It kind of started earlier than that because every year during my teacher career, I’ve resolved to read something interesting during summer vacation (for instance, the summer I read The Grapes of Wrath), but this particular project started when I saw a copy of William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways on clearance, and decided that since I’d always been interested in reading the book and it was available on a deep, deep discount (I think I got it for five bucks), I’d go for it.
I was a few chapters into it when I was reading it on my planning period and a colleague who’s always good for a book recommendation even if his tastes are sometimes completely different than mine walked into my room to ask me a question and said, “That’s such a great book.” And I wholeheartedly agreed–I was really enjoying it. At some point after that, I decided that I wanted to read more travelogues. So I started pulling books off the shelf at home and piling them up. I thought I was going to go with straight-up travel writing at first and pulled Cross-Country and other books that seemed very much like Blue Highways.
But then, things went off on a bit of a tangent. There was a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy left in my classroom. My advanced sophomores were assigned Life of Pi for summer reading. A student recommended Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Seeing Prometheus made me want to read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The pile got bigger as I went off in more than one direction, although I never felt it went off the rails. Maybe the only down side was that as I was heading into July and August of 2012 I made a conscious decision to finish things up because I wanted to move on to a couple of other books I had in my reading pile (I just finished Leaping Tall Buildings, a great book about comic book creators), but that’s not much of a down side. Even the fact that I feel that On the Road was time I’ll never get back (Huck Finn, you have a companion in that list) didn’t take away from how rewarding this was. It kind of made me want to write my own travelogue … maybe one day, I guess.
What’s funniest about this whole project is that the more and more I read, the harder and harder I found to write about what I was reading. The entries I’ve done under this category of “Summer Reading Project” haven’t been setting mine or anyone else’s world on fire (though I did get a few great comments on my diatribe concerning On the Road), and I kind of want to apologize for that, although to be honest I didn’t pick up the “project” for the purpose of blogging about it. I picked the books I read because … I wanted to read them? I think as a teacher and as someone who likes to be informed, I sometimes lose sight of the fact that you can read something for entertainment and not have to break everything down and find deeper meaning in it. My students do this sometimes, too. I’ve had quite a few who say the same thing that I’ve said quite a number of times: I am so busy reading “for work” that I forget to read for fun. I realize that I’m partially responsible for this–after all, I am an English teacher–and I don’t want to go on some rant about how English teachers destroy the love of reading or what have you, because there is true value in the discussion of literature. But yeah, even I just want to enjoy a good book sometimes. Anyway, this was fun. I highly recommend checking out some of the books I’ve read during the past couple of years.