Irony lies at the heart of “A Summer’s Reading,” beginning with the story’s title. During the summer, George reads none of the books he has planned to. As critic Robert Solotaroff points out, he instead reads his own psyche and the psyches of the people in the neighborhood. He learns that the people in the neighborhood support him, and that with their support, he just might be successful in his planned reading and thus in his life.
The greatest irony lies in Cattanzara’s not telling the people of the neighborhood that George has done no reading; instead, George thinks that Cattanzara is the one who spreads the rumor that he has done all the reading he planned. This rumor enables him to retain the respect of the people in the neighborhood and, finally, to do something to make himself worthy of that respect.
Malamud uses a third-person narrative in “A Summer’s Reading,” but often the narrative seems to reflect what George is thinking. For example, Malamud writes of George’s neighborhood, “George had never exactly disliked the people in it, yet he had never liked them very much either. It was the fault of the neighborhood.” The rest of the story makes it clear that the sentence about fault reflects George’s ideas rather than reality. Before the story is over, George finds himself liking the people of his neighborhood, largely because they begin showing that they like, support, and respect him. As a result, he begins to respect himself and finally is able to begin the process of reading that may lead to his being worthy of that respect and to his bettering his life.