As the nights get longer and the days colder one might be tempted to spend time on the couch or in a favorite chair, sipping tea (or perhaps brandy, or whisky!*), and reading. Here are a few suggestions for winter reading as we usher out 2018 and welcome in a new year:
The Western Wind, by Samantha Harvey – This short novel (294 pages) describes in colorful detail life in the medieval village of Oakham during four days in February of 1491. The village priest, John Reve, is the story’s main protagonist. Part theologian, part pastor, part Sherlock Holmes, he struggles to understand how the body of a villager ended up in the river, drowned. Fate or misfortune? A Divine Decree fulfilled or a human plot gone awry? The author’s beautiful prose will lead you backwards in time towards the answer to this delightful mystery.
These Truths, A History of the United States, by Jill Lepore – Critics have called this one volume (932 pages) history of the United States a ‘masterpiece.’ Lepore, a professor of American History at Harvard, analyzes key moments in the history of our nation, and ultimately creates a lens we can use to contextualize our current troubled and divisive times. George Harrison, in his song Any Road (paraphrasing Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland) includes the lyric ‘if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.’ Lepore’s point is exactly the opposite – it is by knowing where we’ve come from that we understand where we are, and gain insight into where we should be going.
And last, but buy no means least:
The Death of Truth, by Michiko Kakutani – This series of short essays explores the way truth has historically been both understood and manipulated. Read together, the chapters provide a devastating critique of the Trump administration’s attempt to reshape how Americans understand what is real and what is not, and where actual truth resides.
*May I suggest a dram of Lagavulin 16 as the perfect match for a cold night, a warm blanket, and a good book.
And enjoy the reading!!
The song Any Road, written by the late, great George Harrison, captured the hippie travel zeitgeist with the line “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” That is to say, the trip is about the journey, about being on the road and the discovery of the moment, not the destination. It actually doesn’t matter where you are going, it only matters what happens on the way.
We might say that the exact opposite is true of the Israeli – Palestinian peace process. They actually know where they are going, almost exactly. But they can’t figure out any road to take that will get them there. So where are they going?
If there is ever going to be peace, it will look something like this. There will be two states, Israel and Palestine. The borders of the states will for the most part be based on the 1967 borders. Some of the major Israeli settlements over the green line, like Ma’ale Adumim, will be annexed into Israel proper. Israel will compensate for that by giving some of its land to the Palestinians. There will be a Palestinian capitol in East Jerusalem, which will be the hardest issue for the Israelis to come to terms with. The Palestinians will not be granted a ‘right of return,’ which will be the hardest issue for them to accept. And that is it. The blueprint, the plan, the destination. Everyone knows it now, everyone has known it for a long time. But no one has been able to find a road that will get them there.
Will they ever find that road? It seems less and less likely over time. Every time they try a new path it ends up being a dead end, filled with wrong turns, recriminations, and the continual reliving of past history. But I do believe that for Israel finding that road is the key to a future of peace and prosperity. The status quo for her becomes less and less palatable, and she becomes more and more isolated in the wider world.
Of course a huge part of the problem is that if you know the destination, but you don’t want to get there, you can generally figure out a way to get lost. Ultimately the question is will leadership emerge that not only knows the place, but can envision a road that will lead there? For now we see the place clearly in the distance. The road there remains hidden in the mist.