Let’s Talk Summer Reading–Without the Pressure

Summer is one of my favorite times of year for reading. I love lying out in the sun with a light paperback, curling up in the corner of the couch with a classic, or falling asleep with my e-reader in my hand under a whirring fan.

Summer reading should be fun for everyone, but especially for teachers and students.

Instead, it’s become such a controversial topic–a buzzword laden with hidden meanings and tensions and polarizing sides. Much of the discourse around reading, and education in general, feels exhausting to me lately. Banned books, mandated books, and everything in between can spark vitriol in teachers who profess to love our students, profession, work.

summer-reading_xs.jpgBut, as ever, reading is the great escape.

And we need that escape–I feel like I never get a break from teaching, and when I do, I don’t know how to seize it. But one thing I love doing in the summertime is reading a book without looking for craft mini-lessons, or thinking about a booktalk I’ll give, or which kid I’ll recommend that title to. That kind of reading can wait until August.

So let’s talk about summer reading, without the pressure. I don’t want to argue with anyone about whether students should be assigned books, or required to participate in book clubs, or the danger of the summer slide or the 20 minutes of reading per day.

I just want to talk books.

Here are some genres and titles I’ve loved so far this summer, and I would love desperately need your recommendations. Please leave them in the comments!


Still Life is the first in the Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny, and I’ll forever remember reading it in beautiful Canaan Valley, WV during an anniversary getaway. This beautifully written murder-mystery is set in a small town in Canada, and our hero, Gamache, is a quiet observer of human nature, which helps him solve mysteries. I adore the way Penny crafts his thoughts about what he sees, and how many lovely backstories are woven through each mystery in this series.


download.jpgThe Word Exchange was completely, compulsively, un-put-down-able. Alena Graedon is a new author for me, and her tale of a world that loses its grip on language once a massive tech company monopolizes and commoditizes words was, for me, perfectly timed–I’ve been a little unsettled lately by my observations about how addicted to technology everyone is, and how afraid I am of what it’s doing to my students, and could potentially do to my children. This book spurred me to action in terms of deactivating my Facebook and Instagram accounts and making a conscious effort to leave my phone in another room–to make space to just be, and be bored, and have time to think and wonder and ponder.

download-2.jpgThe Power by Naomi Alderman was just wonderful. It had all the elements of a gripping adventure story, along with a powerful message about what corrupts us. In this novel, women develop an electrostatic power and a society shifts from patriarchal to matriarchal in the space of a few generations as a result. The effect of women suddenly becoming more physically powerful than men leads to widespread revolution in everything from interpersonal relationships to world leadership. It’s beautifully written, too.

download-3.jpgDear Martin was a book I’d been recommended a thousand times, it seemed, but after reading so many books that felt similar–The Hate U Give, Long Way Down, etc., I just couldn’t pick it up–but I’m so glad I finally did. Nic Stone crafts this novel as a series of letters from young Justyce McAllister to Martin Luther King, interspersed with transcripts of news reports and first-person narrative. It’s complex and thoughtful and plausible and readable and powerful. I loved it.



When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing is Daniel Pink’s latest offering, and as usual, he has an insightful book that has applications for me as an individual, a parent, and a teacher. Pink discusses all the elements of timing that govern our lives, from being a “morning person” to a “night owl,” to the power and importance of building in breaks, taking naps, and seeking out social and alone time. He frames this all in the usual compelling narrative style that makes his writing so readable and interesting to me.

download-4.jpgTeaching Books

180 Days is proving difficult for me to get into. I’ve had it on my desk for over a month, but every time I pick up this collaboration between Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, I feel like I’m having an emotional battle. My former classroom teacher self wars with my preservice teacher professor self wars with my currently nonteaching summer self when I read about the decisions that go into planning for a packed, skill-building, book-loving, writing-doing, meaningful, 180-day school year. I think it just contributes to that overall feeling of exhaustion I have, so maybe I just need to pick it up when I’m a little more rested.

What are you reading this summer? What books and places help you take a break from teaching? Please share in the comments or on Twitter via @3teacherstalk.

Shana Karnes is enjoying summer reading in West Virginia with her two daughters. She spends lots of time at the public library, the university rec center, and Target–because books, running, and iced coffee while shopping are joyful things. Shana works with practicing teachers through the National Writing Project and formerly taught preservice educators and high school students. Let’s talk reading on Twitter–I’m @litreader for a reason!


Tagged: , , ,

17 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Summer Reading–Without the Pressure

  1. […] read before on TTT about how summer is that time for necessary rejuvenation, even if it comes with guilt. […]


  2. Margaret Egler July 9, 2018 at 10:40 am Reply

    I always love your columns, Shana, and I came to this one by way of today’s from Mcguireteach. I’m so grateful I did. Here are two book series recommendations based on your love of Louise Penny. Try out the Bryant and May series by Christopher Fowler. He’s an exquisite writer and his two ancient detectives in London’s “Peculiar Crimes Unit” are erudite and hilarious. Fowler’s craftsmanship makes my jaw drop. I also enjoy the escapism of the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. Maise’s a psychologist and detective whose humble upbringing as the daughter of a London vegetable monger informs her growth from a maid in “great” house to a Cambridge student and protege of a mystical detective. Spanning the years before WWI to the most current book’s setting in 1940, this series slows me down and makes me savor the small details that evoke a lost era.


  3. Bonnie Grover July 9, 2018 at 7:42 am Reply

    Thank you for your honesty. I too have a stack of professional books waiting for my attention. I love your recommendations and can’t wait to add them to my TBR on Goodreads. I highly recommend Bear town and it’s newest sequel Us Against You. If you haven’t read Fredrik Backman, I’m hoping you will love his books as much as I do. Enjoy your summer reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shana Karnes July 9, 2018 at 9:43 am Reply

      I will definitely check out the rest of Bachman’s books! I adored A Man Called Ove. Thanks for replying, Bonnie!


  4. […] to that coffee shop and to my colleagues. But lo and behold, that very same day, Shana had posted this. And that brief paragraph at the end, so straightforward and honest, but more complex than anyone […]


  5. Melanie Beisert June 30, 2018 at 12:29 pm Reply

    Thank you for your recommendations. I just started 180 Days and just finished Disrupting Thinking by Beers and Pobst. EXCELLENT read!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anonymous June 29, 2018 at 8:20 am Reply

    So glad I’m not the only one who craves reading just for the pleasure of not discovering how I can use it for instruction! I really enjoyed the memoir Educated by Tara Westover. If you liked The Glass Castle, you’ll ❤️ it! @scollier36

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shana Karnes June 30, 2018 at 12:23 pm Reply

      I loved The Glass Castle! I have heard several things about Educated, so I definitely want to check it out. Thank you, Susan!


  7. Rebecca Riggs June 27, 2018 at 9:51 am Reply

    Eleanor and Park- Rainbow Rowell
    Fallout- Todd Strasser
    I Am Malala
    I Will Always Write Back
    The Sun is Also a Star- Nicola Yoon

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shana Karnes June 30, 2018 at 12:25 pm Reply

      Thanks, Rebecca! I haven’t read Fallout or I Will Always Write Back, so I’ll add them to my list! And I did a little Twitter searching and saw that you recently won a Book Love award–many congratulations!!


  8. Cindy Erhart (@ErhartCindy) June 27, 2018 at 8:56 am Reply

    Oh, I’ve been meaning to read The Power, and this was a great reminder! I’m also reading 180 Days, and there are two books I’m reading along with it that I think provide great resources to supplement Gallagher and Kittle’s message–A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts and DIY Literacy by Kate Roberts and Maggie Roberts. Roberts really gets into the nitty-gritty of mini-lessons and conferencing in both books. Right now I’m really enjoying the novel The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin; it deals with questions of fate and destiny after four young siblings are given the dates of their deaths by a fortune teller. Finally (but not really finally), I’m reading The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. It explores why some moments have more impact than others, and it uses this research to discuss how we can create more of these moments in all areas of our lives, including at work. Thanks for sharing your list! I could talk books all day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shana Karnes June 30, 2018 at 1:08 pm Reply

      Okay, I definitely need to get on the Kate Roberts wagon! Enough people have now recommended her writing that I think I just need to read all of it. 🙂

      I’ve heard a lot about the Immortalists, but your recommendation sways me. I’m totally in.

      The Power of Moments seems so similar to When! I think I’ll tackle that for my next nonfiction read! My current one is Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich–fascinating since I have a husband in the medical profession. Thanks for sharing YOUR list, and I hope we can keep talking books!


  9. mrsturnerblog June 27, 2018 at 6:21 am Reply

    Love this, Shana! I’ll have to check out some of your recommendations, and yes, Dear Martin was an amazing read. I’ve got 180 Days on my stack, too, but I’m saving it for July when I’m teaching summer school (basically monitoring students doing online work). I want to be able to sit and write beside it, and I don’t feel like sitting at a desk right now. I’m in the middle of two books right now—Feed by MT Anderson and Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. Feed is dystopian and it’s a little slower for me because it’s just a weird culture and it skeeves me out a bit to see people so addicted to technology (which is the point, I suppose). I started Hillbilly Elegy yesterday waiting for a dr’s appointment, and I’m obsessed by it—I think this one will hold my attention until I finish it. I can’t wait to put it in my students’ hands and to talk about it with them. It was on the list of choices for my AP kids, so I’m hoping a few will have chosen it for summer reading! Happy reading, Shana!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anonymous June 27, 2018 at 9:06 am Reply

      As you and your students read Hillbilly Elegy, please include other voices such as the review/response from Betsy Rader, Washington Post, “I was born in poverty in Appalachia…”, Sept.1,2017. Kenan Rote krotebdg@yahoo.com

      Liked by 2 people

    • Shana Karnes June 30, 2018 at 1:17 pm Reply

      AUGH, I LOVED Feed!!! It was the book that made me obsessed with MT Anderson. I also was blown away by Hillbilly Elegy (in a good way–it resonated!), but I second Kenan and definitely recommend looking at alternate perspectives–Elizabeth Catte’s book What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is a nice counterpoint to Vance’s.

      When you read 180 Days, let me know what you think! Are you in the Book Love Summer Book Club this year?


      • mrsturnerblog June 30, 2018 at 5:58 pm Reply

        I’m planning to read some alternate sides for Hillbilly Elegy. 😊

        I’ll let you know when I’m done with 180 Days. I loved the first two chapters! I’m not in the Book Love Summer Book Club—I wish I’d done it. I just had too many (non-book/non-teaching) things that I had to do this summer and I didn’t think I could balance it all. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

What are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: