For reasons I can't explain, I've been pondering Erasmus lately...
“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”This excerpt, even if the translation abuses the original text a bit, captures some of my own personal pathology when it comes to books. This year, though, the pathology showed an interesting pattern, with surges in subject matter…and a certain amount of consistency in the escape sought from those surges.
The last half of Air War College saw an emphasis on wargaming as I wrestled with the final paper for that program. This blended into reading on Africa as a supplement to and continuation of the Regional and Cultural Studies program in which I was lucky enough to take part. (I say luck because it was far from my first choice, but in retrospect I’m glad and grateful an accident placed me there.) I’ve tried to continue the latter study, but my success there has been mixed, in no small measure because of new surges driven by where I landed following War College, a job driven by surges of “learn all you can about a subject as fast as you can…then change subjects.” This job led from Scales on War—a terrible yet terribly effective book that has displaced Ghost Fleet in the position of worst piece of writing in my recent reading—and the problem of how the Department of Defense invests in close-combat capabilities for the infantry to a brief flirtation with logistics and a longer affair with surprise, revolution, and diffusion of technological, organizational, and social disruptions in the military sphere. Through all that I managed to sneak a few works of fiction—some candy, some extraordinary, and some both—a little (or more than a little) in the way of birding and birdy books, and a bit of serendipity—including the best book I read this year, Jill Lepore’s The Name of War.
In the end, the hit rate on good work was surprisingly high, with some truly fantastic books I’d happily read again or highly recommend to almost anyone (with the caveat that recommendations should always be personal and individual). Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, Girl at War, The Name of War, Queen’s Play, and Weapon of Choice, for example, were extraordinary,
I was also lucky to waste time on only a few stinkers with insufficient redeeming value to outweigh the horrors perpetrated, books I’d recommend to no one or recommend only as negative examples– Blindside, Fighting Power, Scales on War, and The Seventh Sense fall into that category. With almost any book, I could find something to criticize, I suppose, but with these I can find almost nothing to praise. Four of fifty-two is a ratio I’ll accept, though.
“Do not be guilty of possessing a library of learned books while lacking learning yourself.”This, I fear, has been my lot this year, especially since leaving school. I’ve had—or I’ve made and taken—too little opportunity to reflect and to synthesize. I’ve read a great deal, but what have I made of that reading? I’ve been to Africa, moved across the country, begun a new job, suffered some setbacks, and been exposed to a host of new people and ideas…but what have I made of that? I’m possessed of a library of learned books, but what have I learned. Am I lacking in learning? I fear I am. To mangle Thoreau, I’ve eaten many meals at this table, but what have they made me? I’m not certain, and that troubles me. It seems every year I resolve to do better in this regard, to find some balance…and every year I disappoint myself. Perhaps the coming year will be different. Perhaps.
“The desire to write grows with writing.”Many were the things I wrote this year for school…but the plans to turn those items into publications never came to fruition. Many were the possibilities discussed for writing down ideas important and interesting…but those have yet to happen. Many were the projects proposed for collaboration with people smarter than I…but I’ve mostly let those people down. I did manage to close the read-think-write loop and turn two books read into books reviewed, one nonfiction and one fiction, but that somehow feels like failure. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. A bright spot was #ReadingWomen and the one thing I’m especially glad to have written this year. Now, though, I look at what I’ve read this year in that light, and I wonder if I learned anything at all. Alas.
Looking AheadI’m not sure I wish I’d read more, but I do have some regrets about what I read. I was not without thought, but I wish I’d spent more time in reflection than I did. And while I did a bit of worthwhile writing (and am rather pleased with the small part I played in #ReadingWomen), I did not do nearly as much as I expected or should.
Still, there is another year before me, and to borrow a bit of solace from a favorite literary character: