This is the time of year for pop-culture novelists Danielle Steel and John Grisham, and their brand of literature-lite: books best read around the pool or as preamble to an afternoon nap.

But almost every public school student in the county came home for the summer with a list of somewhat more serious books they are supposed to read before school starts again Aug. 30. And for a small cadre of Loudoun students, summer reading means something far more intense. Those enrolled in honors or Advanced Placement English classes next year were assigned two classic novels to finish--and think about.

"They might find their beach reading a little different than most," said Betty Mar Little, supervisor of English instruction for Loudoun County public schools.

Among the required works: "The Taming of the Shrew," by William Shakespeare; "Jane Eyre," by Charlotte Bronte; "The Grapes of Wrath," by John Steinbeck; and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain.

Besides reading the tomes, the advanced students must also keep a journal of important quotes, new vocabulary words, themes and plot sequences used for discussion in the first days of school.

Although students' parents may exercise the privileges of adulthood and succumb to lesser authors now and then, many have walked in their children's shoes and remember it well. Two or three decades later, the mere mention of a certain great but complicated classic can rekindle all the old anxiety.

For Linda Gregorcyk, who recently moved to Ashburn from New Mexico, it is James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" that conjures up unhappy memories of her teenage years in Pennsylvania.

"Our teacher loved that book so much, and I just had a tough time with that one,"Gregorcyk, who was working a crossword Thursday at the Ashburn Sports Pavilion while her children took swimming lessons. Laurence Sterne's "Tristam Shandy" was another one she plodded through.

"It was so tedious," she said, although she enjoys the works of Shakespeare and Dickens.

"That Shakespeare stuff--I never really got the language," said Bob DeLuca, who brought television star Tim Allen's newest book with him to the pavilion Thursday. "Trying to decipher it, well, it was like a foreign language."

But DeLuca--who recently finished reading "Serpent," a thriller by Clive Cussler--compared the classics to opera, an art form his father has loved for years. DeLuca said he is trying to develop a taste for both.

"It's hard if you don't really get it . . . the first time," he said.

At 17, Lauren Legard, of Leesburg, is becoming a master of the classics, having taken honors English for the past three years. But she embarks on her biggest challenge this summer as she prepares for AP English by reading "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," by Thomas Hardy and "Madame Bovary," by Gustave Flaubert.

So, how's it going?

"Well, I read 'Tess' already. It took me about one week to read. It was okay," she said. "It was not difficult to follow, but parts of it were really slow."

By Wednesday evening, she had started "Madame Bovary."

"I don't think I like it so far," Legard said.

Her teacher also has been doing some serious reading.

Patricia Phillips has taught honors English at Loudoun County High School before, but now she is taking over AP English because the previous teacher retired in June. As a result, she has reread not only the novels assigned for the summer but also some of the books scheduled for discussion during the school year.

She admits that mandatory reading of the classics can cramp a teenager's summer vacation. But she said the assignment weeds out students who shouldn't be enrolled.

"Some students are pushed by their parents to take the course," Phillips said. And every August, she added, one or two walk into class without having done the work. Those students will never be able to keep up with the workload, she said.

To make the summer assignment easier, Little, the English administrator, suggests that parents read the book at the same time. "Then they can have their own literature discussions," she said.

Students in every grade are encouraged to read during the summer, and many schools recommend a long list of age-appropriate books. The library system has several picture-book adaptations of classic works, with illustrations and easy words, to introduce children to the great books. It also stocks many unabridged classics recorded on tape.

Lisa Landi, of Ashburn, is trying to expose her children to classic books by reading them herself. As she worked on her tan at the Ashburn Sports Pavilion, Landi, who says she reads about two books a month, was starting in on Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"I did not like to read [in high school]. I didn't do any of it for pleasure," she said. "I don't want my kids to be the same way, so I want them to see me reading."

As Katie Higgins enters her senior year at Loudoun County High School in August, she will look back on four summers spent reading the classics. She loved "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "The Grapes of Wrath."

But the summer after eighth grade was the worst, she said, when she spent most of July and August struggling to understand "Great Expectations." She couldn't.

"To this day, I am sort of repulsed by anything by Charles Dickens," Higgins said, "just because of that one book."

CAPTION: Carol Barbour, of Leesburg's Liberty Books, looks through tomes assigned for the honors program.

CAPTION: Lisa Landi, of Ashburn, works on her tan and "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the pool.