I encounter lots of parents who tend to fail at summer reading.
They don’t fail for lack of trying. They like to read. They want their kids to see them reading. They buy or borrow lots of books. But then they never get around to the actual reading.
The problem could be a mix of time and self-delusion, but I suspect the problem is actually variety. If you check out ten best-selling fiction bricks, you don’t really have ten books, but ten versions of one book: a difficult-to-start, hard-to-pick-up-again-after-yet-another-interruption book best reserved for when the kids aren’t home.
But the kids are home. For months. So if you want to read this summer, you need a more versatile stack that can match whatever the mood in your house allows.
A childhood favorite
If you thought yourself too old for Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket when they were first published, consider them your first summer homework. Also consider adding your own kid’s current favorites to your stack.
Once you’ve finished, move on to your other childhood favorites. Reading Ramona as an adult will remind you to look at the world from your kid’s perspective, and reading nearly any Roald Dahl book will remind you that adults need to check their behavior.
A how-to book
An easy read doesn’t have to be an empty read. When you only have 15 minutes, consider picking up a food reference like The Food Lab, which will teach you new ways to cook eggs and bake cookies, or The Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating, which will teach you the history of your favorite ingredients. Comfortable with the basics and just want a really good cookbook? There’s tons to choose from, including the recently published Very Serious Cookbook, On Vegetables, and Season.
A book everyone else is reading
Then commit to talk about the book with other people, which will help you make time for reading. Your local library probably hosts book discussion groups, but you can start one yourself as long as you know at least one other person who wants to read a book. If you’re a parent home with young kids, consider reading Emily Oster’s new book Cribsheet, and then come talk to me about it!
A relationship book
Interpret “relationship” broadly and read a book that helps you empathize with someone in your family. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk is a classic perfect for starting a summer home with kids. Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal will help you open difficult-but-essential end-of-life conversations with aging family members. Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth A. Silvers’ I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) can help you talk to friends you’ve been on the outs with since 2016.
A book you think you’ll hate
My family once held a long-distance book club for exactly one book. We mailed a copy of The Secret to each other, writing snarky comments to each other in the margins.
This summer, use your library card to read a book you think you won’t like. If you have school-age kids, you’ll be reminded what it’s like to be assigned something you don’t want to read. And who knows? You might learn something new.
A book that beat you
Defeated by A Tale of Two Cities in the eighth grade? Never got all the way through Jane Eyre? Constantly tilting at Don Quixote? Add a book that used to be too hard for you.
A picture book
Another phrase for “picture book for grown-ups” is a coffee-table book.
But unlike children’s picture books, coffee table books are mostly for other people to look at, usually as shorthand for how worldly you are. Those giant architectural books aren’t easy to curl up with, so you need coffee table books that might actually one day leave your coffee table.
Linda Miller Nicholson’s Pasta, Pretty Please is full of gorgeous multi-hued pastas, and includes great tidbits like how to make color-changing noodles with butterfly pea flowers. If you prefer to drink your calories, opt for The Aviary Cocktail Book.
A book that’s not a book
Kelli Anderson’s This Book is a Planetarium, will, as its title suggests, give you an indoor view of the night sky, but it will also let you write and decode secret messages, play music, and make spirographs.
The San Francisco Writer’s Grotto’s 642 Things to Write About. Not confident about writing? Try 642 Things to Draw. Already finished writing and drawing all those things? Try the sequels. Need more kid-friendly prompts? Try the young writer and young artist versions, which are plenty of fun for kids and their grown-ups.
An earlier version of this piece appeared on NEO Parent.