One way to tell that summer is on its way is to check out Rhonda Summey's reading list.
The Upper Marlboro assistant school principal's book club reads a mix of fiction and nonfiction titles year round, but as the days grow longer, the book selections get less serious. The group sometimes throws a romance into the summer mix.
"Our goal is find beach reads," says Summey, 34.
This summer, however, half of the group's books will be more serious in nature.
Inspired by the March death of Gordon Parks, the noted African-American photographer, filmmaker, composer and writer, the group will dig into his book Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography.
In the book, Parks, the first black photographer for Life and Vogue and the director of the motion picture Shaft, writes about what it was like to be black in America.
"We've found that autobiographies are usually good -- it depends on the person," Summey says.
Another more serious selection is Neecey's Lullaby by Cris Burks (crisburks.com), a novel set in 1950s Chicago about a young girl who cares for her siblings in a verbally and physically abusive household.
Summey found the book using one of her tried-and-true book-picking strategies: strolling through the bookstore stacks until she sees an interesting cover or title.
"Scanning the bookstore shelves does a good job for me," says Summey who founded her club while working in an Alexandria bookstore.
Gotham Diaries (gothamdiaries. com) is more true to the club's light summer theme. The novel, written by Tonya Lewis Lee, wife of filmmaker Spike Lee, and Crystal McCrary Anthony, wife of former New York Knick and sports commentator Gary Anthony, delves into the lives of black socialites in New York with the authority that only insiders such as themselves can convey.
The book's cameo in Spike Lee's 2006 film Inside Man made the group curious. "One of the characters is reading the book," Summey said.
The group's selection reflects the members' desire to feast their eyes on some lighter summer fare.
The group has also selected Every Shut Eye, the story of an aide and son-in-law to a corrupt Washington mayor named Simon Blake, which was penned by Collen Dixon (collendixon.com) of Mitchellville. The book is the third in a series.
Reading local authors can sometimes result in a special treat -- Dixon attended a previous meeting when the group, which averages about three or four members, read another book in the series, Simon Says.
Like Summey's group, Tyra Stewart's book club in Baltimore, which has as many as 18 members, also focuses on African-American authors, but several months ago a few members pushed to diversify the selections.
They wanted to move away from books centered on African-American heroines or "divas," Stewart, 25, explains.
Previous selections included Here and Now by Kimberla Lawson Roby and The Interruption of Everything by Terry McMillan.
Among the group's summer selections is Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money -- That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by millionaire Robert Kiyosaki.
Kiyosaki, who now has a line of Rich Dad (richdad.com) books, uses the examples of his less-successful biological father and his best friend's more successful father to provide insight on building wealth.
Stewart, who says she would like to use the group as a way to learn more about money and investing, picked the book and sold it to the group.
"I was talking about it because I was listening to it on tape," the government researcher and book club co-founder says.
The members of Stewart's group, which meets once a month, take turns hosting at their home, and everyone brings a dish.
"It's stressful to host and cook; it's better as a communal effort," Stewart says.
Oftentimes the conversations get so comfortable that group members get way off the topic and start talking about their own lives.
At least one member of the group likes to try to stay on topic, and if the conversation veers too far away from the book, "she'll bring out her discussion notes," Stewart says with a chuckle.
Clara Anthony, owner of Sepia Sand & Sable, an African-American bookstore in Northwest Baltimore, says book clubs make strangers into friends.
Sepia Sand & Sable has its own book club, which is targeted to women over 40. It meets the first Sunday of every month.
"It's a social outlet and an opportunity to come together with people with whom you have a similar passion -- a passion for reading," she says. .......................
FIVE BOOKS THAT GOT THEIR ATTENTION
Here are some of the books area clubs are reading this summer.
1 Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money --That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert T. Kiyosaki with Sharon L. Lechter: Businessman Kiyosaki tells the story of his father, who struggled financially, and his best friend's father -- Rich Dad -- to illustrate his views on attaining wealth.
2 Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography by Gordon Parks: In his autobiography, photographer, film director, writer, composer and painter Parks, who died in March, writes about his experiences and what it is like to be black in America.
3 Neecey's Lullaby by Cris Burks: In this story set on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s, Neecey is thrown into the role of caregiver to her siblings in an abusive home.
4 Gotham Diaries by Tonya Lewis Lee and Crystal McCrary Anthony: Lee, wife of filmmaker Spike Lee, and Anthony, wife of former New York Knick Greg Anthony, team up to provide a fictionalized look into the lives of New York City's black elite.
5 Every Shut Eye by Collen Dixon: Alex Baxter attempts to make sense of his life after his boss, father-in-law and one of Washington's most powerful criminals -- who also happens to be mayor -- is killed.
[PHILANA PATTERSON ]