What does a high school principal read over the summer? (Hint: It’s all about spies, leadership, and exploration)

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Story and photo by Andrea Tomkins –

Nepean High School Principal Patrick McCarthy isn’t resting easy this summer. In fact, he’s still working, as the summer school principal at the Adult High School on Rochester Street.

McCarthy is a cottage reader who takes his books back and forth over the summer.

Reading at his Sharbot Lake cottage is very much a family affair, although McCarthy’s daughter Molly, 13, is currently volunteering at a summer camp. (He describes her as a “voracious reader” who just finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.)

“I am very purposeful about my time at the cottage. It belongs to my daughter and my family,” says McCarthy. “But in the evenings, we read a lot.”

McCarthy works on cottage projects from 7 a.m. to noon and afternoons are spent on the dock or with friends on the lake.

“After dinner, it’s all reading.”

McCarthy already has a few books under his belt. First on his list for summertime reading are paperbacks by American novelist Brad Thor. Think 24/Jack Bauer/Kiefer Sutherland kinds of stories, or as McCarthy puts it: “good, mindless, summer reading.” It’s New York Times best-seller “counter-terrorism stuff” which McCarthy says he “mows through rather quickly.”

McCarthy is partway through Personal, by British thriller author Lee Child. Child is the author of the Jack Reacher series of novels, a character who was the basis of a film starring Tom Cruise called Jack Reacher. No spoilers – in case you haven’t seen it – but McCarthy warns the die-hard Reacher fans will be upset because Tom Cruise is 5’9” and Jack Reacher is 6’5”.

“A big part of the character is that he’s this really big guy,” says McCarthy, who goes on to describe it as “a fluff movie. It wasn’t a great movie.”

The book he’s wanted to read for years is Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, first published in 1959 by Alfred Lansing. Sir Ernest Shackleton, born in 1874, was a polar explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic. McCarthy was at a leadership conference in Calgary with a student group seven or eight years ago when he first learned about the book while in conversation with the director of the Calgary Zoo.

“He spent 15 minutes talking to the kids about Ernest Shacketon,” remembers McCarthy. “About how leadership can be daunting, and how it’s sometimes not about how technically a good leader you are, but sometimes it’s about endurance and tenacity.”

McCarthy says he’s been captivated by the story ever since, and even though he’s only 40 pages in, says he is very impressed with the author’s style and high degree of detail and research.

“Alfred Lansing, the author, writes about it just beautifully,” says McCarthy. “He is such a natural storyteller, and makes you feel like you’re in the room with him, which is something I really enjoy.”

The final book on McCarthy’s list is related to the story of the Endurance, and it’s called South: The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914-1917, and was written by Sir Ernest himself. McCarthy hasn’t started it yet, but wonders if there might be some lessons to be drawn from Shackleton’s experience.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that you have to like what you do,” says McCarthy. “If you are fighting to be where you are every day, you’re going to grind down pretty quickly no matter what field you’re in.”

This post is part of our KT summer reads issue. Read all of our other profiles right here.

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