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A Reading List to Brighten Your Summer

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Jun. 22, 2015

For many of us, we’re about a month into this wonderful time called summer break. Perhaps we’ve started internships, summer jobs, summer classes. Perhaps we’re still trying to ease into a summer rhythm. Whatever you’re doing this summer, I figure that at least one of these statements is true for you.

  1. You enjoy a good book over your summer break.
  2. You appreciate the extra time summer allows for fun activities with friends.
  3. You’d love to make both good books and fun activities a part of your summer.

Whether 1, 2, or 3 is truest for you, this article is for you. I want to share a few books I enjoy and pair summer activities with them. Read the book, do the activity, or both! The prize for completion? Your utmost enjoyment, I’m hoping. If you read one, two, or all of these books, feel free to comment below with your own book review. I’d be interested in hearing what you thought about the books, as well as your own book recommendations.


If You Find this Letter
by Hannah Brencher

Genre: Memoir

It’s easier to let fear win. Even though love covers all things, fear is what keeps us silent and keeps words unsaid. Fear keeps us standing in one place. Eventually, when it wins, it means we never got the courage to say what we needed to say. But the words are needed …. And maybe that is all we have ever needed from one another: true words written with a love that feels too big to pin down to a page with measly little syllables.

(Brencher 213) — Hannah Brencher

This wonderful book was just released this year. If you love a good story, writing that jumps off the page with imagery, all served up with a walloping dose of inspiration, this is for you. Hannah Brencher is the founder of a website called, which seeks to improve the lives of struggling strangers through the use of letter writing. People can nominate loved ones going through a hard time, and if chosen, the loved one becomes the recipient of hundreds of letters written by people all over the country and throughout the world. What moved Brencher to begin this cause is truly uplifting, and it’s amazing to see how she uses her big questions (like “who is God?” and “what is my purpose on this earth?”) to move her toward the lives of others.    

Activity: Dig out some old stationary, or a piece of notebook paper. Start writing to a friend or family member who needs a little love right about now. Or go to, click on the button in the corner that reads “the letter requests” and read about a struggling stranger who could use a letter from you. If you’d rather, you can write a letter to yourself to open five or ten years from now, or begin a journal to document your daily thoughts. Another activity is watching the film Letters to Juliet (2010). Brencher actually mentions the setting of this movie in her book, where Shakespeare’s Juliet was said to live. Letter writing, a cute romance — it’s all there.   


To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

Genre: Classic Lit.

…but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.

(114) — Atticus Finch

I’m guessing many of us have read this one. But it’s worth a reread, especially this summer with Lee’s release of Go Set a Watchman due in July (which will be about an adult Scout returning to her home in Macomb and looking back on past events in the light of present problems).

 What I love most about To Kill a Mockingbird is that Harper Lee deals with the huge issues of race, class, and following one’s conscience, through the eyes of a child. Scout learns from her wise father, Atticus, that “[y]ou never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view….until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (36). Scout comes to realize that such advice not only applies to how African Americans should be treated (as Atticus defends Tom Robinson in court), but also how she should treat people she doesn’t understand, like the reclusive Boo Radley, and people she doesn’t like, like the cantankerous Mrs. Dubose or her puny classmate, Walter Cunningham. What’s striking in this book is that the children who largely populate the pages of the novel (Jem, Scout, and Dill) are the ones who see with the clearest eyes. Dill almost gets sick when he hears people speaking rudely about Tom Robinson during the trial, and it is Scout who reaches up and takes Boo Radley’s hand after he saves her and Jem from harm. To Kill a Mockingbird reminds me that despite the physical, mental, and spiritual differences we have, we’re all people of equal worth and dignity.

Activity: In describing Macomb, Alabama, Lee creates such a sense of place, from the dusty roads to Mrs. Dubose’s white camellia blooms. Visit a local place in your town, be it an arboretum, coffee shop, farmer’s market, or restaurant. Soak in the atmosphere of this place. Write about it, if you feel so inclined. You could also spend time hanging out with a kid, and just live life from their spontaneous, simple, and wise perspective for a day.


The Scapegoat
by Daphne DuMaurier

Genre: Action with a touch of Mystery

…I felt again not so much relief as guilt—guilt that the sins of Jean de Guè had been increased tenfold by his scapegoat….I knew that everything I had said or done had implicated me further, driven me deeper, bound me more closely still to that man whose body was not my body, whose mind was not my mind, whose thoughts and actions were a world apart, and yet, whose inner substance was part of my nature, part of my secret self.
(131-132) — John

In a thrilling turn of events, an Englishman named John meets his doppelganger, and then spends a week living this man’s life. This book beautifully demonstrates the power that one person’s life can have on the lives of others. John must try to learn the history of his new family and his relationships to them all, as he navigates and seeks to ameliorate the havoc the real father, brother, and son created in their lives. At first he is their scapegoat, the one who is blamed for the errors of the other man; in the span of a week, he begins to make their lives better.

Activity: Most of this book takes place in France. In fact, you’ll find a lot of French words interspersed throughout The Scapegoat. Perhaps take a picnic to a park, complete with French bread, wine, and some good cheese. If you’re up for a road trip, consider visiting one of the many U.S. towns called Paris, of which there are apparently quite a few. In fact, how cool would it be to eat your French themed lunch in Paris…Illinois or Paris…Texas, or one of the other Parises in the US?


by Jane Austen

Genre: Romance (with a good deal of Jane Austen wit).

My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.

(122) — Anne Elliot

Whether you’re into Jane Austen or not, this book is definitely worth a read. What comes to the forefront for me is the immense strength of the long-suffering heroine, Anne Elliot. The book opens with her getting ready to help her family retrench since their funds are low and they can’t afford their house. For nine years, she’s been suffering the loss of her lover, Captain Wentworth, who she refused out of a feeling of obligation to her family. When he reappears in her life…well I’ll leave that for you to read. Far from being sappy (though for some this may be debatable), the book shows Anne to be an individual who is always seeking the good of others, as she listens to the complaints of other family members, and comforts a man who lost his wife (to name just a few examples).  Instead of becoming weighed down by her sorrows, Anne uses them to help others.   

Activity: Watch the BBC version of Persuasion, complete with a mug or dainty cup full of tea (or coffee if tea’s not your thing). Do something nautical (Captain Wentworth is a member of the British navy, and the book introduces us to a few seafaring individuals). Take a paddleboat, canoe, or kayak out on a lake. Walk the shore of a lake or ocean if you live nearby one of these. Or, if you’re feeling the need for a proper British tea, consider visiting a tea room, complete with teapots and scones (though visiting a local coffee shop with your best friend also counts).


Caleb Williams
by William Godwin

Genre: Mystery/Thriller/ Suspense (Gothic style)

My life for several years has been a theatre of calamity.
I have been a mark for the vigilance of tyranny, and I could not escape.

(59) — Caleb Williams

This quote begins the harrowing tale of Caleb Williams, a servant to Mr. Falkland. The back story to Williams’ story involves the long-time animosity that existed between Falkland and a Mr. Tyrell, both squires who owned land. When Tyrell ends up dead, and Falkland’s character changes completely, the question becomes, did Falkland kill Tyrell? This question is resurrected years later when Williams enters Falkland’s employ, and disturbs his master with an ardent curiosity to find out what happened so long ago. When Falkland finally tells him the truth, the price is Williams’ freedom. What follows is a riveting manhunt, as Williams does everything in his power to escape Mr. Falkland (complete with disguises, escapes from prison, and the like). This book also ends in a kind of choose-your-own adventure with two different possible endings. If you recognize words such as “fiend,” “despair,” and “insanity” as being favorites of Mary Shelley in Frankenstein, you’ll know where she got them. William Godwin was her father.

Activity: This kind of action packed story calls for some kind of strategic board game. (I’m thinking Settlers of Catan or Risk, but something mysterious like Clue will work too). If you really want to get into the spirit of Caleb Williams, try a classic spin off of the tried and true hide-and-seek, like Ghosts in the Graveyard (best played in the dark with flashlights). You could also have a photo scavenger hunt competition. Draw up a list of things both teams will be looking for (e.g. a yellow car, the word “curiosity”, a man in a suit), set a time limit, and capture your finds with a camera. The team with the most points at the end of your proscribed time limit wins, and the other team has to buy the winners ice cream.

Alright, you’re ready to go! Pick up a book, choose an activity, the choice is yours. Happy summer!