When the cold weather finally cedes to summer, life slows down for the better in Buffalo. Suddenly, our winter-standard task lists of must-dos take a back seat to all the want-tos that have been in hibernation since November. It’s as if longer days and beckoning sunshine open up new space in our lives for pleasure and joy.
One of the most gratifying, self-improving want-tos of summer is the opportunity to reinvigorate your reading habit. Here's how to make the most of it.
Take your pick
A great reading habit starts with great material. If you’re looking for books to carry you through the summer, heed these recommendations from some of Buffalo’s best-read denizens.
"The Underground Railroad"
By Colson Whitehead
‘The Underground Railroad’ is a magnificent book—haunting and timely. It won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. And, given Buffalo’s proud history as one of the last stops on the historic Underground Railroad, it feels like required reading for everyone.”
– Barbara Cole, artistic director at Just Buffalo Literary Center
"The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers"
By Bridgett M. Davis
“It’s a deliciously heartwarming story of Davis’s mother, a smart, generous and lucky Detroit woman who ran an independent numbers lottery game before the state took over the system. Davis’s writing about the illegal underground numbers games and their value as a socioeconomic institution within Black American communities is insightful and filled with universal themes of motherhood, family, love and the struggle to hit the American dream.”
– Annette Daniels Taylor, writer and University at Buffalo adjunct lecturer
"The Other Americans"
By Laila Lalami
“This book unfolds like a mystery in a chorus of voices that kept me turning pages until the end. It examines the way the death of a Moroccan immigrant ripples outward, affecting those who knew him and those who didn’t. The story is told firsthand by a cast of characters who remind us that being American can mean many different, beautiful things.”
– Janet McNally, writer and English professor at Canisius College
"No Walls and the Recurring Dream"
By Ani DiFranco
Summer reading generally tilts toward fiction, but this summer I suspect those wandering around Buffalo-area beaches will spot copies of Ani DiFranco’s memoir, which chronicles her early life and years as a musician, feminist and political activist. As free-spirited and frank as her music, the book will invigorate old fans and inspire plenty of new ones.”
– Jonathan Welch, owner of Talking Leaves Books
"Sing, Unburied, Sing" and "Lost Children Archive"
By Jesmyn Ward; By Valeria Luiselli
Last year, I read ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing,’ a take on the American road novel that shines light on rural poverty in a way rarely seen in ‘capital-L’ literature. Whereas most road novels focus on themes of freedom and limitless possibility, reinforcing a certain American mythology, ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing,’ wherein the black adolescent protagonist wonders, at one point, if the police officer who pulled over his mother might kill him, underlines that the American highway is not just a place where people find themselves. This year, I look forward to another retelling of the American road novel—this time, ‘Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli.’ ”
– Kevin Thurston, writer and public relations assistant at Just Buffalo Literary Center
Find your spot
Page-turner in hand, your next order of business is to land on a reading venue. The best take advantage of the ephemeral pleasures of the warm weather and come with their own enticing sense of place. Fortunately, Buffalo is not short of inspiring, linger-worthy spots, perfect for relishing the written word:
Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park
For an immersive reading experience, head to the willow trees along the shore of this placid jewel of the Olmsted park system. The meditative effects of the water coupled with a steady stream of amblers and joggers on the lake’s girdling path engender quietude with just the right amount of energy.
For riverine reading, Broderick Park at the foot of West Ferry is one of the best. Recent renovations, including restrooms and concessions, plus attractive views of the Niagara, edifying historical markers honoring the park’s significance to the Underground Railroad (befitting the aforementioned Whitehead novel), and ample sitting areas make Broderick Park a place to tarry.
The Reading Park at Downtown’s Central Library
A placemaking project is underway to transform the slip of public space outside the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library’s main branch into a landscaped destination for reading and community connectivity. Updates to the park, including lawns for lounging, seating and gardens,
are expected to be finished early this summer.
The wide, grassy, tree-lined median of this Elmwood Village thoroughfare is an idyllic setting for relaxing with a good book. On summer weekends, the vibe of the park transitions from buzzy with events and a farmer’s market on Saturdays to stunningly tranquil by late afternoon Sundays. Plan your visit accordingly.
Don’t forget the kiddos
If you have children in your life, consider including them on your summer reading excursions. Reading, studies suggest, transcends mere word comprehension; it’s a complex cognitive practice that helps children shape their inner selves and directly benefits their abilities to process and think critically about the information they receive. The more reading a child does, the better. Admittedly, though, some take to it more enthusiastically than others.
“Reading is not always easy or fun for young people,” said Jeremy Besch, head of school at Park School in Amherst. “For those who struggle, I always recommend that parents do what they can to keep reading as enjoyable as possible, as often as possible. Explore as many genres as your child wants. Let them read for shorter durations, if they prefer, and model for them that reading is an enjoyable leisure activity, be it longer works or even a steady diet of articles.”
For younger children, Besch suggests developing light and fun rituals that instill in them positive associations with reading at an early age. Start with weekly visits to local libraries—and be sure to treat them like the adventures that they are.
For older children, Besch suggests fighting the impulse to make sure that all of their reading is advanced or academic. If allowed to make autonomous genre choices, “fun” reading might just turn into a welcome escape from the required reading he or she has to do for school.
You won’t always share an interest in the materials they choose,” he cautioned. “But the support you offer in that choice helps cement the idea that reading can be just that: a choice instead of a chore.”
Join your crowd
If you love to read in the company of bibliophiles like yourself, consider attending one of Buffalo Reading Invasion’s three public read-ins this summer. The events bring together people far and wide for a relaxing hour of independent reading in one of our city’s beautiful community spaces. To join, simply grab your book or material of choice and meet, ready to read, at the designated date, time and place:
June 11, 7 to 8 p.m.
Bidwell Parkway at Elmwood (near Caffe Aroma)
July 8 & August 8, 7 to 8 p.m.
For locations and more details, check buffaloreadinginvasion.com.
Story topics: Community