Not Another Summer Reading List

‘Tis the season to make reading lists. Thrilled by the sudden warmth of the sun and the promise (or more likely, fantasy) of a few days on the beach, everyone starts making lists of books that we imagine gazing at over the salted rims of tropical drinks. The New Yorker‘s Out Loud Podcast recently interviewed Kathryn Shulz and James Wood on their summer reading lists, if you’re looking for a few suggestions. To make things easier, Amazon has combed my recent searches for “Beach Read Sale” items, which makes it clear that their algorithms have never been to a beach.

Honestly, though, I don’t feel much like reading. I’ve recently completed my PhD in English, and I’ve hit a slump. It’s not exactly that I hate reading, it’s just that I’ve completed the intellectual equivalent of ten consecutive Man Versus Food challenges, and I never want to see a steak again. Instead of forcing myself through another novel or theoretical text, I’m finding other pursuits to keep me inspired and fight the anxiety of applying to a thousand jobs.

I’ve always liked the idea of 30-day challenges. A few years ago Google’s Matt Cutts gave a popular TED Talk about trying something new for 30 days, where Cutts dealt with his own rut by taking a picture every day for a month, participating in NaNoWriMo, and getting active enough to climb Kilimanjaro. Not to steal Cutts’s punchline, because his short video is worth watching, but he ends by saying, “The next 30 days are going to pass whether you like it or not. So why not think about something you’ve always wanted to try and give it a shot for the next 30 days?” Last summer, I gave the method a try, succeeding at a few things–I learned a lot about JavaScript–and failing at a few–but I’ll get you someday, chess.

Courtesy of @fictionaljules (

Unlike previous summers where I’ve set a full syllabus and worked my way through courses, this summer, I’m picking fun and interesting topics and letting myself plummet down rabbit holes. For June, I wanted to go easy on myself–really easy: learning as much as I can about cheese. As if following a daily diet of cheese weren’t motivation enough, my partner has enthusiastically joined this challenge, assembling cheese boards and visiting creameries with me.

Normally, I wouldn’t attempt 2 challenges at the same time, but earlier this month, Turner Classic Movies launched a free online course called Summer of Darkness: Investigating Film Noir. After half a dozen of my close friends started the course and joined the #NoirSummer conversation, I couldn’t resist throwing my fedora in the ring. Sharing a communal experience of old, inky detective films has been nearly as much fun as eating cheese every day.

BogartWhile there is something very personal about 30-day challenges, having someone to share goals and accomplishments with makes it easier to stay on track. I could never have finished my dissertation without the support of my writing group, a fantastic group of scholars that keep each other honest about the work we’re doing and the time we’re wasting.

So I’m also looking for accountability buddies that want to work on the same project, or a completely different project altogether, as long as you’re wanting to accomplish goals and willing to check in regularly with progress updates. If there’s anything you want to do during June, or this summer, leave a comment or tweet me.

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