[Noozhawk’s note: First in a two-part series.]

The start of my summer is not marked by a holiday or specific position of the moon, sun or planet. My summer begins when I see the first roadside cherry stand. So it was, last week, the summer of 2011 commenced in my world.

One of my favorite aspects of summer is the proverbial summer reading list. Never having created one of my own, I asked an eclectic group of friends to send me their suggestions and a brief explanation as to why the book was chosen.

The responses I received were so inspired and plentiful I have decided to include all of them in two separate columns. I also ask readers to offer their own suggestions in the “Comments” section below. In the order I received them, here they are.

Kate Carter, founder and executive director of Life Chronicles, responded, “For summer reading and just easy enjoyment, I got a kick out of Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray, not just because I love cake (and the author includes cake recipes in the book), but because I really believed the characters. I actually laughed out loud in parts, which for me is just an amazing thing! Like I said, I love all kinds of books, but the ones that make me laugh always stick out in my memory — I believe we are here to laugh!”

A dear friend, Sue Van Gordon, who lives in Atchison, Kan., rattled off three in succession: Betty White’s If You Ask Me, Jon Katz’s A Dog Year and, true to her Kansas roots, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Sue is a sage, humorist and mentor. She embodies the very best of Midwest culture. If you ever find your way to Atchison, be sure to look her up.

Jocelyn Medawar, who teaches English at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, recommended Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. “Not only is it beautifully written, it is one of the most unique novels I have ever read — sheer genius, as it takes the reader from the past to the present to the future and back to the past in a narrative structure that is nothing short of breathtaking.” Medawar is a gifted writer in her own right and truly the best friend anyone could hope to have. I bought the book immediately.

Bill Able, a fellow Rotarian and all-around great guy, suggests Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda.

Able writes: “We only know about Lawrence of Arabia from the movie, but the real story is much more interesting. He was perhaps the most famous person in Great Britain at the time of his death.

“With so much news from the Middle East these days, this book gives a perspective on how much of this conflict began and perhaps how much could have been avoided if T.E. Lawrence’s advice had been heeded following WWI.”

Agnes Stouffer, a gifted writer, brilliant intellectual, fascinating conversationalist and one of my favorite people, writes, “At a low ebb in my life, I was given a little paperback. It changed my view of the world. The book was The Ultimate Secrets of Total Self-Confidence by Dr. Robert Anthony. It is not a book to read. It is a book to be absorbed a few pages at a time. Then let it meld into your character.” With a recommendation from Stouffer, this book goes to the top of my “must read” list.

Sandy Smith, who I have written about before in this column, replied, “The next book I will be reading is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It has been recommended to me by several unrelated friends, and it is particularly relevant at this time because of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders. This anniversary brings up a lot of memories for me, as I was involved in the civil rights movement in the early ‘60s. We’ve come a long way since then, but certainly still have a long way to go until all people are treated with dignity and respect.” Smith is a champion of civil rights.

Kathy Crow, the principal at my children’s school, writes, “I recently read two books that I thought were really good. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. It was 5 Crows (stars). It took about 100 pages to really get into it, but I didn’t want to put it down or finish it because I loved the people and story. The second is Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, a novel based on historical fact about Frank Lloyd Wright and the woman (not his wife) he loved. It is very interesting and offers some good insight into what kind of a person he was. It gets 4 Crows.” Crow is the kind of principal every kid should have. I was thrilled she responded.

This week’s final recommendation comes from Joanne Poloni, the vice principal at the high school where my wife teaches. She offers a practical suggestion, The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. “While the book is only 106 pages with large print, I have been told the strategies are very clearly stated and are very effective in working with people. Reading the book will not take much time at all. Thinking about and implementing the techniques, perhaps making them a part of how I respond to people, will take a lifetime, if they work — priceless.” Poloni is the hardest-working educator I know. I hope she can find some relief in these pages.

Next week I will offer some additional responses as well as my own favorite for consideration. Again, I hope readers will offer their suggestions in the “Comments” section below.

— Tim Durnin is a father, husband and serves as chief operating officer for Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International. He can be reached at tdurnin@gmail.com for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.