Summer is when we try to read what we like to read, not what we have to read.
Although I left life as a full-time student many years ago, I still have my share of required reading - official reports, business mail, even a few textbooks for some classes I take away from the office. Much of my required reading is rendered in the dryly impersonal form of prose by committee.
What I seek out when I read for pleasure is the sound of a singular human voice. The best reading is good talking that’s been distilled into print.
That’s why I’m such a big fan of historian David McCullough, whose latest book, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,” has been on my summer reading list. McCullough’s elegant baritone and his thoughtful commentary make him an excellent speaker and TV host. His background in public speaking makes McCullough’s writing better, too. He’s one of those authors who seems to know that all good writing appeals to the ear.
“The Greater Journey” is about various Americans - some famous, others not - who visited Paris between 1830 and 1900 and benefited from the experience. McCullough’s story is more sprawling than his presidential biographies of Harry Truman and John Adams, where the focus on one character gave the narratives a driving urgency. There’s a more casual quality to “The Greater Journey,” which has the feel of a story slowly unfolding near a roaring hearth. But once I entered into the cadence of McCullough’s new book, I could hear his memorable voice in my ear again, and all was well. “The Greater Journey” also prompted me to reread “Mornings on Horseback,” McCullough’s celebrated account of the young Theodore Roosevelt.
The late poet Laurie Lee was a much different writer than McCullough, but he also wrote pleasingly for the ear. That’s made “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning,” a new reprint of Lee’s 1969 memoir, a special treat for me this summer.
One of the South’s most gifted writers - and talkers - was Eudora Welty, whose exchange of letters with fellow writer William Maxwell became one of American literature’s more memorable correspondences. The letters have been collected in “What There Is to Say We Have Said,” another great summer read for me.
The Welty-Maxwell letters led me to “Ancestors,” Maxwell’s history of his family from antiquity to Maxwell’s childhood. The book has its dry stretches, but it gets better near the middle.
I’ve also been reading “The Story of Charlotte’s Web,” author Michael Sims’ account of how E.B. White wrote his classic children’s tale.
It’s no accident that I’m sharing my summer reading list near the end of the season. Even the best-laid summer reading plans, I have found, tend to spill over into fall, and even winter.
Nothing wrong with that. After all, why should we limit reading for pleasure to just one season of the year?