So, in my spare time I have been doing a little reading. Light, summer reading... the kind that should take your mind off work and the other more-immediate cares of your life, right? I haven't (yet) succumbed to the devilish temptation to re-read the entire Harry Potter series, though there are others in my house for whom this is "Job-1." And I am not even considering the piles and pages of work-related articles and policies that occupy the bulk of my work-hours.
Nope. I am talking about the books that I choose to read for enjoyment and relaxation. In July, I have read Zbigniew Brzezinski's "Second Chance", which describes the last three US presidents' missed opportunities to advance global leadership from a position of supported power; John Steinbeck's "Bombs Away", which is an unapologetic propaganda piece written in 1942 to encourage young Americans to volunteer to serve in the fledgling Army Air Force flying B-17s and B-24s and to encourage their parents to let them do so; Janny Wurts' "To Ride Hell's Chasm", which is a completely fantastic exploration of the cultural and historical events that can drive an individual to utterly impossible feats of imagination in pursuit of loyalty and honor (in truth, the book's genre would be fantasy fiction, but the journey the main character undertakes is all too real); and finally, James De Kay's "Chronicles of the Frigate "Macedonian": 1809-1922, which lightly details the history of one of America's war prizes from the War of 1812. Throw in a bunch of newspapers and magazines, and you have my July reading list.
So what. Lots of people read lots of stuff each summer (and do a much better job summarizing and reviewing what they have read, or at least get paid for their efforts!) When I read though, I really try to put myself in the time-place of the events that I read about (even if that place is imaginary). Not so hard with the first one, since I lived through it, but still worth the effort. Try though we might, we all live in a limited-dimensional world. There are too many things going on simultaneously, everywhere, that we cannot even know about them, much less incorporate it all into the impacts on our lives. Our presidents have a lot on their plates... sometimes more than they can handle, regularly more than they need, and too often supplemented by unnecessary adventures. Thank you, Mr. Brzezinski, for reminding me of that.
Our young people are not told often enough how smart and capable they are. John Steinbeck reminded me that I never felt told that "you can't do that" as a child. Oh sure, I was told not to climb on the fence overlooking Niagara Falls, and certainly heard my fair share of, "No, and I mean it!" as a child. But I'm talking about the kind of discouragement that young people hear... about body size, about job opportunities, about achievement, and about playing together. We don't know what our (or their) futures will require in terms of skills and abilities, but we need to strongly encourage our selves and our young people to do many, many things. Building on innate curiosity and playful invention will always be the strength of our future, and our kids embody those traits. Let's do a lot more playing.
Fantasy fiction is a great escape from reality. No kidding. But it is a kind of work too. The author takes a kernel of a plot, and fleshes it out to challenge the reader. Fantasy requires whole worlds to be imagined - histories, cultures, geographies, habits, and tricks. The reader can immerse herself to whatever depth, and can be swept into an un-reality with ease. This reader, however, is too analytical for that. :) I pick at the story-line, looking for inconsistencies and foibles. It's part of my enjoyment, but it is a handicap too. The point here is that we are all driven by our pasts and our visions of our futures. We all play roles in the unwritten books of other peoples' lives, and our awareness of that fact can be both burdensome and emancipating. We need to walk gently, but confidently, into our future, and be gentle with ourselves.
Finally, historical stuff makes me feel grounded. You know, in spite of the whole eco-enviro-political disaster called modern Western life, we are really lucky folks. Just a few short decades ago, we humans battled debilitating diseases and illnesses on a regular basis. Sickness and death, especially for the young, was more often the rule than the exception... and some of the fevers were particularly nasty. Those diseases, and illnesses, and social situations, still exist in the world. And they are larger and longer-lasting than me. It is a blessing to be able to consider them, and an obligation to remain aware of them and act to eliminate them, and for these reasons, too, I am a lucky man.
Enjoy the week! It's sunny here, and I feel great today.