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Sunday Reflections: Why I don’t read teen fic on vacation

I’m going on a real vacation this summer, for the first time in a while.  We’re not tacking a few extra days at the end of a conference or family event.  This is the real deal: sand, sun, lighthouses, and wild ponies (really) with no other obligations.  And like any good reader’s adviser, choosing my vacation reading is at the top of my packing list.

Vacation reading is, for me, very different than reading at home or reading for work.  It’s a pure luxury: reading how it used to be; a vacation in and of itself.  It’s reading without obligations or rules.  It’s reading with no expectations, other than a good story.  Vacation reading is so specific to place for me as well.  I need to take several books on any trip, just in case it doesn’t feel right when I get there.  The availability of e-books for this kind of reading has saved me lots of space.  Then the story and the experience of reading it becomes as ingrained in my memory of the vacation as food might be for some, or the sights and sounds are for others.

Since becoming a “book professional” I mark vacations by the books I remember, because the luxury to read purely for reading’s sake has become something rare and treasured in my life.  That’s something no one tells you in library school right there, that while making reading your job sounds delicious and everything you dreamed of as a child, the truth is that it’s still a job.  Yes, a job you love, but – a job nonetheless.

I’ve crossed the country by books, reading The Brothers K while curled in the back of my parents’ van, driving home from Glacier National Park on my last family vacation before spouses and significant others started tagging along, immersed in the saga of a family’s diaspora unfolding over the course of decades, dovetailing with my own family’s history.

I dove into Pillars of the Earth in 2003, craving the length, the time period, the detail, the complexity, the adult themes, political scheming, and conflict — all in one place! — that I had been missing after my first year as a teen librarian, trying as hard as I could to read as much teen fiction as possible, as fast as possible, in hopes of catching up to the teens and keeping up with my collection.  Don’t get me wrong – teen fiction offers plenty of complexity, but my reading at the time was informed by professional gaps more than personal interest, and none of those 6th graders were suggesting I read this!
When none of the books in my stack fit my mood on a camping trip in Northern Michigan several years back, I found myself desperately browsing the paperback racks at the only book purveyor in town, K-Mart, in hopes of finding something to see me through the downpour outside.  I chose two books, and read them both within the next 24 hours while trying to stay dry.
Another year, camping with a small child, my only reading time came after dark, so I read Gone With The Wind, a book I’d avoided for years but finally, thankfully picked up, by the glow of a headlamp while sitting next to a campfire, far too late into the night.  
This year, we return to the spot where I read She’s Come Undone and wrote ungodly long letters to my crush in ’93, covered head to toe while on the beach because of some crazy photosensitive reaction.  It’s the same spot where, deep in my lit major era, I read a whole stack of Alice Walker and John Steinbeck in ’98, and the same place where I was working feverishly on my own book and not reading at all in 2006.
This year, when I finally return to Chincoteague, Virginia, in addition to the requisite book set in the location, I’ll be taking along the The Last Word, Document 6, the final book in Lisa Lutz’ Spellman Files series, a bittersweet pleasure read for sure.  The Spellman Files is the only series I read (unless assigned!) and it’s ending. I read Document 4, The Spellmans Strike Again while balancing a brand new baby on my chest at a lake house in Michigan, so it’s comfortable, familiar vacation reading for a comfortable, familiar vacation spot for me.  
Now, I know some of  you are thinking, “Why on earth is she talking about all of this adult fiction that is never going to be useful to me as a teen librarian?  What does Heather’s vacation reading have to do with teen librarianship?”  The thing of it is, this is what I need to recharge.  It’s what reminds me that reading is joyful and fun and interesting and personal.  

I love teen fiction, but I love reading more.  

If reading the latest greatest teen contemporary is what you crave while sipping a cool drink on a hot summer day, go for it.  But the second that starts to feel like work, stop.  Put it down, and find a way to recharge your summer reading.  My vacation reading is not made up of books I choose because they’ll help me do my job better, or because a teen I work with just loved it, or my coworker or blog slavedriver friend suggested that they would be good to review.  They’re books I choose because I choose them.  That choice is vital to keeping your love of reading as fresh and exciting as it was the summer you  I flew through twelve or so Babysitter’s Club books, and then met Meg Murray, who changed my world under a tree at a campground in Iowa.  
That choice is what we encourage parents to give their teens when selecting books.  It’s what we remind teens of every time we help them locate the next in a series, every time we probe a little deeper to uncover the kind of book that the reluctant reader would actually enjoy, and remind him to never apologize for his reading tastes.  It’s why we order a wide variety of books, and compile them into book lists for every reading taste and interest.  It’s why we lobby for genre reading and champion the Quick Pick list and get grouchy over stale, stuffy required reading.  Choosing our own reading is powerful stuff!  
Reading for fun is vital to retaining your energy and enthusiasm about reading for fun. 
This is a job that can seep into every corner of your life (and house – who doesn’t have a stack of TBR somewhere lurking in the corner?), and it’s important to give yourself a break and recharge.  Maybe you don’t want to read at all on vacation.  That’s ok too!  Whatever you do for relaxing entertainment on your vacation, do it with no expectation of reaping direct benefits when you return to work.  It’s the surest way to return to work fresh, restored, and really ready to give your teens everything they deserve in a teen librarian – an energetic, empathetic, engaged ally behind the desk.  
What did you read on YOUR summer vacation this year?  


  1. I loved the book “She's come Undone!” It was an awesome read! 🙂 I read alot while I was on vacation too. We didn't have the greatest weather. 🙂

  2. Though I took three books I'm considering for a class novel, I ended up being sucked into A Game of Thrones and devouring the entire thing on our camping trip this past week. Needless to say, those three novels weren't even glanced at until we returned home! Great post. I love reading on vacation; I'll forever associate Game of Thrones with a tent in Wisconsin. 🙂

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