The Joys of Aimless Reading

Sarah Harrison Smith on August 03, 2017

AmblinFor certain readers, summer vacation offers the time to dive deep into a big blockbuster, a bonkbuster, a mystery series, or a Great Book (Tolstoy, Dickens, George Eliot, maybe?). For others, the best summer reading is aimless – the kind that gives you that lovely feeling of discovering something new and delightful by happenstance. If you read a lot generally, a book you can just open and browse might be the most relaxing book of all. Read a page or two, set the book down again, and reflect. There’s no stress to this kind of reading, no goal – which is precisely why it’s perfect for lazy days at the beach, on the porch, in the hammock – or simply in bed.

If the idea of reading aimlessly appeals to you, may we suggest three books that offer short bursts of excellent prose and poetry.


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Time to catch up with all that soon-to-be-prizewinning fiction published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, or ZYZZZYVA? The 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories is edited by one of the masters of the genre, Junot Diaz ( The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao). He includes work by writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Karen Russell and John Edgar Wideman.

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The Great Love Poems included in this thrifty collection from Dover Editions make ideal bedside reading – and could be a welcome gift to any newlyweds of your acquaintance. Sir Thomas Wyatt, said to be the lover of Henry VIII’s sometime-wife Anne Boleyn, gets things going with his sexy sonnet, “They Flee from Me that Sometime Did Me Seek.” Present day poets prove that some feelings (though perhaps not Henry VIII's) stand the test of time.

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Take a break from emoticons and read these fascinating Letters of Note from a time when people corresponded more meaningfully. Elvis Presley to Richard Nixon; Zelda to Scott Fitzgerald; Bette Davis to B.D. Hyman: there’s a lot here to make you laugh, marvel, or pause. You might not expect Queen Elizabeth II to write a rather flirty note to President Dwight Eisenhower, describing her favorite recipe for scones, but she did, and somehow her tone persuades us that she herself enjoyed a bit of baking while on holiday. Don't be surprised if you feel like picking up pen and paper after reading this anthology, collected by Shaun Usher, who edits the online site of the same name. It's got our stamp of approval.



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