Summertime without a few good books is like a ball without a
bat or a beach without the surf. It is mind-stretch time as
well as time for travel, sports and summer jobs. For kids of
any age, it is time to cultivate the reading habit and enjoy
daily interaction with the printed page.
This summer is the 50th anniversary of the publication of
Harper Lee's great novel To Kill a Mockingbird. If the
vacationing young are unfamiliar with this must-read book,
that's a sign that the reading habit needs attention.
Reading habits begin in strange ways. My brother always had a
flashlight under the covers when we were supposed to be down
for the night and sound asleep.
My Jesuit friend, the late Clement J. McNaspy, a true genius,
received a complete set of a popular encyclopedia when he was
just 6 years old. It came from his parents by way of
compensation for uprooting and relocating him from New
Orleans to Lafayette, La., where his father took a new job.
Over the course of the summer months, the 6-year-old McNaspy
read the entire set, volume by volume, from beginning to end.
In the move, he lost some friends but gained a love of
According to the Wall Street Journal, Bill Gates became a
"diligent learner" at an early age. As a youngster, he read
the entire World Book Encyclopedia from start to finish, and
his parents encouraged his reading habit by paying for any
book he wanted.
Everyone knows that as a boy, Abraham Lincoln liked to read.
One biographer refers to the "small but steady diet of books
he mastered," in the process learning "to rely on his books
and his imagination to satisfy his curiosity and intellect."
These books, according to his cousin, Dennis Hanks, included
Aesop's Fables, Robinson Crusoe and The Arabian Nights, along
with William Scott's Lessons in Elocution and Noah Webster's
American Spelling Book. And Hanks remarked, "He was a
constant and I may say stubborn reader."
Many successful leaders will tell you that they enjoy reading
history. It might be the history of their country or the
world; it might be the history of the organization they lead
or the industry or profession within which they lead.
Some read military history to gain an appreciation of tactics
and strategy. Some read biography in search of clues to the
development of character.
Many people read just for the love of reading. This is always
a hopeful sign that they are likely to be well-informed and
Dennis Recio, a Jesuit who teaches English literature at the
University of San Francisco, explains what he does by saying,
"I teach students to see beyond their own experience."
That's what those who are wise enough to read widely - just
for the love of reading - are doing; they are seeing beyond
their own experience and, in the process, becoming more fully
This summer represents a growth opportunity for any
out-of-school youngster who is wise enough to set aside an
hour or so a day for reading good books.
At summer's end, every reading vacationer will have met new
friends, discovered new places and picked up new ideas simply
by turning the printed page. They will also have made
progress on their respective ways to becoming more fully
Not a bad way to spend the summer.
Fr. Byron is a university professor of business and society
at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia.