Several of you were kind enough to inquire whether I had retired, since I did not post for three weeks. In fact, I was simply taking my summer vacation seriously. Adria and I have for many years spent a few weeks every August in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. We used to do a lot of hiking and climbing, but now, well, we walk, swim, and read.
This summer I had already finished the article I was writing (“nearly finished” might be more accurate), and I decided to devote my vacation to reading several books I could not get to during the term. In no particular order, here’s what I read:
I have long been a fan of mountain climbing books, and I thoroughly enjoyed the mammoth and splendid Fallen Giants by Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver — a comprehensive history of Himalayan climbing, wonderfully well-written. I have been systematically reading the recent books on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and I surprised myself by staying with By His Own Rules, Bradley Graham’s (similarly mammoth) account of Donald Rumsfeld’s career. I also finally got around to reading the brilliant Rise of the Vulcans, James Mann’s depressing analysis of the impact of the Neocons on Bush defense policy. Less relevant (but not irrelevant) to current military affairs, I read the excellent account of Gallipoli by Robin Prior, and the simply superb biography of Samuel Champlain, Champlain’s Dream, by David Hackett Fischer (Katz Prize for Best Book of the Summer).
I also read a fine new book by Kip Kosek entitled Acts of Conscience, a thoughtful history of the development of Christian political pacifism in the early 20th-century United States. Kosek had been in touch with me about my wife’s grandfather, Rev. John Haynes Holmes, one of the key figures in the movement and perhaps the person most responsible for introducing Gandhian ideas to this country. I also finally found time to read a splendid academic autobiography, Doors Open, by my English friend Barry Supple, a distinguished economic historian and academic/philanthropic administrator.
I don’t read many novels during the school year, so I indulge myself during the summer. The best of these, one I had meant to read long ago, was Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, a brilliantly written fictional narrative. I also enjoyed Nicole Mones’ The Last Chinese Chef, suggested to me by Anne Kenney of Cornell — although it made me very hungry throughout. I try to keep up with the novels by Jonathan Rabb, the son of my colleague Ted — the latest, a mystery set in pre-World War II Berlin, is called Shadow and Light. Not Jonathan’s best, but quite good. And I always enjoy the mysteries of Martin Cruz Smith, so I was happy to pick up Havana Bay in the Tamworth Town Library — a great read that brought me back to one of my favorite cities. I tried to read the latest Robert Hellenga (The Italian Lover), since I had enjoyed his earlier novels so much, but this one struck me as being a rather lame reprise to his fine The Sixteen Pleasures. Finally, I am now reading a wonderful reprise, David Guterson’s Other, which takes me back to Snow Falling on Cedars.
Now I am happily back to writing the first fall letters of recommendation, and preparing my two undergraduate classes for this fall. I hope your reading was as pleasurable — give or take!