For those of us who spent our summers binging on Young Adult fiction, the local library — not the beach or the playground or the swimming pool — was our turf.
Naturally, we enrolled in our library’s summer reading programs, even as we rolled our eyes at the ridiculously easy assignments. (A dozen books? We’ll have those read by the Fourth of July!) Our superiority complexes didn’t stop us from attending the end-of-summer reading party where we were presented with certificates praising our reading prowess — pieces of parchment that often wound up stained with punch and crumbled beyond recognition by the time they made it home.
Sadly, by sixth- or seventh-grade, we had aged out of the summer reading program until now. Local libraries have expanded the traditional programs — which once upon a time were primarily for elementary kids and middle-schoolers — to also include babies and preschoolers; teenagers; and — yay! — adults.
These are not book clubs. There are no regular meetings, and in fact, partici pants generally never even meet one another. In other words, there’s no pressure to read a certain book by a particular date. Instead, there’s a list of general assignments keyed to a particular theme — this year’s is Escape the Ordinary — and participants have the latitude to pick and choose among countless titles.
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For example, one of eight assignments on the current list is to read a fiction book set in Europe. The library has a list of nearly 50 recommended titles, ranging from classics like “Vanity Fair” to Joakim Zander’s recent thriller, “The Swimmer,” which has been compared to a Jason Bourne adventure.
Or, you can come up with your own; chances are you already have three or four books sitting on a shelf or queued up on your Kindle that meet the criteria.
Adult reading programs have been around for a while — most libraries in San Luis Obispo County run one in the summer and another in the winter — but are still something of an undiscovered treasure.
Participation in San Luis Obispo County’s adult programs is in the hundreds, according to regional librarian Rosalyn Pierini, compared to the thousands who join the children’s reading programs.
Yet once adults sign up, they’re usually hooked.
Karin Havemose, a South County mother of two who works at Harloe Elementary School, is a faithful participant in both the summer and winter adult programs; she also tries to recruit her co-workers for the program.
“I like that it gets me to read books that I wouldn’t necessarily normally read,” said Havemose, who credits the program with introducing her to historical fiction.
Right now she’s reading “The Portrait of a Lady” by Henry James.
“It’s not quite (a) page turner,” she said, “but it’s so rich.”
Assignments aren’t limited to books. Participants might be asked to watch a movie on a particular subject; to listen to a book on tape or CD; or to read a magazine article.
Often, the assignments introduce readers to one of the library’s online services. One assignment on the summer list is to use the Global Road Warrior database to learn something about a foreign country.
If you don’t have access to a computer — or you just don’t want to use one — don’t worry. You can also fulfill the assignment by listening to a book on CD or you can go the old-fashioned route: consult a book.
For those who complete the assignments — and yes, the program runs on the honor system — there is no end-of-summer party, but there are prizes. (Reading is its own reward, but the prizes — provided by Friends of the Library groups and other donors — are a nice touch.)
Rewards differ from branch to branch and season to season, but typically include things like book bags, book marks, book calendars and mugs.
It’s not too late to get started; the adult program runs through Aug. 30.
Sign up, and we suspect your inner fourth-grader the one who spent the summer hanging out with Tom Sawyer and Jane Eyre and Nancy Drew — will thank you.