Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer Reading

Because most adults have jobs, and most jobs make free time just as scarce in the summer as it is in other seasons, I have always found it silly that newspapers and magazines publish “summer reading lists” for adults. But with our long Beach Weekend kicking off today, I am thinking about how summer-specific it is to lose yourself in a good read while sitting by the sea…so I figured, why not recommend five of my favorites, call them a summer reading list, and hope people take advantage of them whenever they can? So here they are, in alphabetical order by author:

A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson

You don’t need to have spent a lot of time in the outdoors to enjoy this one, in which Bryson chronicles his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. He does so with lots of humor and with keen observations of nature and humanity. Although he did not finish the trail, he did complete more than 800 of its 2,000 miles, and that means he walked up and down mountains across a distance greater than that between New York and Chicago. To Bryson’s credit, A Walk in the Woods rarely gets sidetracked into the kind of preachy environmentalism that infects most adventure books; and while it should be noted that several of the environmentalist “facts” he does mention are not true at all, it should also be noted that this was a result of faulty sources and not of him being dishonest.

The Afghan, by Frederick Forsyth

Forsyth published The Day of the Jackal the year I was born, and for my money he has been the world’s greatest espionage novelist ever since. Having been a pilot in the RAF and a diplomatic correspondent for BBC, he has a wealth of knowledge about the way things get done “in the shadows,” and he uses it to strengthen his yarns. The Afghan tells the story of a covert operation orchestrated by the U.S. and U.K. after they learn that a major terrorist plot is being hatched. They know nothing about the plot except its code name, but that name alone makes it clear that it must be stopped, so a retired British soldier poses as a Guantanamo escapee to infiltrate Al Quaeda. His perilous attempts to identify the plot and relay information back to the West will have you on the edge of your seat.

Hawaii, by James Michener

The epics written by this late author are historical fiction at its finest. In each of them, he takes a piece of land and spins a story about the things that happen on that land from prehistory to the year the book was written. After describing how the Hawaiian islands were created, this novel begins with ancient people from Bora Bora sailing canoes across thousands of miles of ocean and arriving in what would later be called Hawaii. Subsequent chapters see American missionaries come to the islands, and then hard-working immigrants from Japan and China, all of them contributing their different perspectives and values to the evolving culture. These people interact, and as the years pass and they die off, their descendants become central characters as well. Hawaii doesn’t just take you to a different place and time -- it takes you to many different places and times, and remains cohesive in the process.

The Source, by James Michener

One good Michener epic deserves another, and in days like these, when Israel is under siege and nobody is standing beside her, it is important to read The Source. Spanning an arc of time that begins with a caveman named Ur and concludes in the 1960’s with an archaeologist named John Cullinane, The Source depicts the admirable history of Jewish people in the Holy Land, with several nods to Christianity plus a clear-eyed look at early Islam. With vivid tales of Roman conquest, the Crusades, and the post-World War II establishment of modern Israel, it will leave you mesmerized. Much of the novel takes place in a town that ceased to exist after the thirteenth century, and much of it is told in flashbacks as Cullinane’s crew unearths the town’s artifacts during a twentieth century archaeological dig.

The Vision of the Anointed, by Thomas Sowell

I have written before about the immense respect I have for Sowell’s American genius. This book is perhaps his greatest, explaining how the respective opinions of conservatives and liberals derive from the starkly different ways each of these groups view the world; and how those ways of viewing the world mean that even if a brand new issue were to arise, which no one had ever heard of before, conservatives and liberals would still have opposite opinions about how it should be handled. The Vision of the Anointed was written 15 years ago and the points it makes have only gotten stronger. Sowell is best described as a libertarian with conservative sympathies, and therefore his opinions may not sit well with liberals...but I dare anyone to read this book and say he is wrong.

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