When I was but a wee little princess, our local library held a summer reading contest, to encourage kids to read, even when school wasn’t in session. Their mascot was, appropriately, a worm, as in bookworm. Winners got one at the end of the season. I still have mine, and I never grew out of wanting to charge, full speed, through a reading challenge, even though I don’t get a trophy at the end of the season, and I have to make the rules. What rules? Step into my web.
I know, I know, mixed metaphors. Worms, spiders, not as fun as books, am I right? Then again, what is? Not a lot, from where I’m sitting, which, right now, is in bed, propped up against a pile of pillows, seasonally appropriate beverage at hand. In short, ideal reading position. Back when I was a wee little princess, vying for one of the coveted yarn worms, its head stuffed with cotton balls, the reading challenge was a highlight of my summer. Every week, my mother would take me to the library (historical brag: this library started life as the school where first Chief Justice John Jay’s kids attended) to bring back the last load of books, report in with the children’s librarian, and update my progress, before I could make out like a literary locust and clean out the shelves once again. Do not ask me the parameters of the contest rules, because they are long since forgotten, but I never lost the love of the game.
Fast forward :cough cough: decades. Summer still kicks in that desire to read, and, now, my tastes run to a decidedly more grown-up genre than picture books. Historical romance and realistic YA are my MVPs, but there are times when my eye wanders to women’s fiction, the occasional fantasy, historical fiction, or humor. As a writer of romance, myself, I’m always going to look at a promising new book (or old favorite) on writing, especially romance writing, but each summer seems to dictate its own focus. Maybe that comes from the summer reading programs of years past, because I like to have some structure to my reading.
When real life threw some big curveballs my way ,and picking a book I wanted to read was tough, I came up with the idea of a default read. Pick out a certain kind of book, such as the work of a certain author (that first year, it was Hannah Howell, as the woman is prolific, and has a huge backlist) and, if I didn’t know what I wanted to read, well, there it was. Work through the default list. That first year, I only made it into the first two books of Howell’s Murray series of Highland historicals, before the reading fire came back, which was kind of the point. Well done, Ms. Howell.
This past year has had curveballs of its own, which is when having a default reading list comes in handy. At the start of the year, I made a list of twelve books I wanted to re-read, and twelve I couldn’t believe I hadn’t yet read. If I didn’t know what to read, well, you can guess what comes next. I’m getting through it, though more slowly than I would like, because I keep distracting myself with reading other books by the same author of the book I meant to be reading. Sometimes, this is because Book A was the first in a series, and I go after the whole thing, but it can also mean that I loved the author’s voice, and so devour her other works, even when they are complete standalones, not related at all to the original book. Which could lead to other series, or other authors with similar voices, or I fall in love with an era or a character type, or or or or….
Yeah, It’s like that. The whole books I want to read/re-read thing got me thinking, hard, about what it is I love most about the romance genre, and the kinds of books I most want to see more of, or,, for that matter, write more of, which means research, right? Back when I used to get most of my books in paperback, from used book stores, I had my routine down. Go to nearest ice cream/frozen yogurt spot. Array books in front of me. Arrange them in chronological order of story setting, from most historical to most modern. Boom. That was my reading order. Made things easy, and reinforced my love of variety in historical romance, which is something I’m making a conscious effort to revive in my reading life.
Back when my library trips always involved my mother, there were rules for what sorts of books counted for the challenge, and which were just for fun. (Spoiler: I read both) and, Type A that I am, I still like that. I haven’t set an official summer bucket list (yet) but there is one loosely forming. There’s that to be re-read list, for one thing, and the list, right now, only in my head, of authors I missed the first time around, that I would like to discover now. Doesn’t matter if their careers were short or long, or if the burst on the scene with one fabulous book, and then slipped back into their everyday lives, never (to my knowledge) to publish again.
When I think of making an official bucket list my mind goes first to the kinds of books that I really, really love the most. Deeply emotional historical romances. Standalones. Retellings of myths and legends. Epic family sagas that span generations. Inspirational romances that make me laugh and cry and feel and believe. I haven’t read one of those in a long time, but no time like the present. The spine-tingling chills of a classic gothic romance. Time travels. Mercy, do I miss a good time travel, and bonus points if it takes place in one of my favorite historical eras. The list could go on. What about yours?
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you have a summer reading bucket list? If so, what’s on it? How do you keep track? Do you reward yourself if you meet your goals, or is reading all those great books a reward in itself? Anybody know where I can get myself one of those yarn and cotton bookworms? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.