“I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
|Ralph Waldo Emerson|
As Francis Bacon said, "Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man." And this injunction to read, think, and write forms, as ever, the reflective rubric I use to help me make sense of it all.
If there is one thing this year held for me, it was reading. At the close of last year, I said of my reading choices that "I wandered into wandering." I'd like to say I learned from that and my reading was broad by choice or as broad as I planned for it to be, but neither would be an accurate representation of the list below. In many ways, this remained a year of happenstance and wandering, at least until I arrived at Air War College where wandering ended and the study of "grand strategy" began. (I rather wish that six months in I had a definitive definition of grand strategy, but I'm slowly coming to terms with the notion that studying the history of grand strategy is and will likely remain semiological rather than onomasiological, to borrow a characterization from Lukas Milevski and a book that will show up in my list for next year.)
I worked hard to allow a little whimsy, though, hearing the ever-wise Francis Bacon whispering in my ear that sometimes "studies serve for delight," and I was surprised to discover as a result a book that made me laugh out loud (and, as a staff officer and strategist, occasionally wish to weep) in Alex Finley's Victor in the Rubble. And when in doubt as to what might amuse, interest, or help you find your center, even if only for a few hundred pages, always trust the friends who know you best. That led me to some brilliant fiction in authors such as Dorothy Dunnett and Sigrid Undset. That success was balanced by some poor decisions on my part, though--I have no idea what possessed me to pick up Dan Brown's Inferno in an airport and then foolishly fail to put it aside when I realized what a mistake I'd made. Then there was the Air War College, with it's highlights and lowlights.
In the end, I read a lot that was new to me. (I'm aware that I've not read as much as many others, but treating this problem of growth as a competition seems silly at best and dangerous at worst, so I try to measure myself against others only by height, as the immortal Ty Webb once said). As I hoped, I read some fiction, some poetry, and some things that just happened upon me; I read instrumentally; I read because it was assigned; and I read for no reason at all. I read innumerable draft articles for The Strategy Bridge. (That's an exaggeration, of course. I suppose there were something like 300 articles and reviews in that reading and a handful of references/citations for each article. The same might be said for Air War College, with the articles and supplemental reading that have gone into it.) The bottom line is clear, though. I read a lot. It feels somehow as if it wasn't enough, though, and in many ways it feels as if it wasn't the right reading. But, since I don't really know what the right reading was, perhaps I'm simply restless in my search to know all of the things. And like the meals I can't remember, these books are now a part of me.
ThinkReading is easy. Making sense of the reading we do--or anything we do--is hard. It is in the latter sense that I feel a certain despondence. Some of the books I read were great. Many were good. A few were a waste. At least none were Ghost Fleet, though. (The Dan Brown nonsense I picked up in an airport came within a nose, but I just can't give it pride of position.)
|"The Thinker," Auguste Rodin|
For at least a part of 2017, the menu of reading, writing, and thinking was single-minded and exogenously imposed, but I once again find myself hoping for room and committed to strategy in my approach to growth...and to a bit less time with my head down, a bit more time eyes open and looking around.
WriteIf I thought too little this year, I wrote less. I wasn't absent from the world of productive letters, of course. (At least I hope I put those letters together productively.) For example, I produced a review of George Kennan's American Diplomacy that doesn't make me shiver with horror--though I wish I'd read Gaddis before writing the review. Mentioning this short review does raise the spectre of reviews I could and should have written, though. Alas. But I also collaborated on an article addressing a critical issue associated with an historic decision to open ground combat career fields to women. I wrote an introduction to a book of poetry of which I am proud (and tickled because of the books it led me to read, in particular The Holy or the Broken and The Hatred of Poetry). And, feeling an absence of thought and writing to create some coherence from my reading, I placed a special emphasis on recording something--anything--for each work I read. I imposed on my friends in creating some degree of Bacon's readiness and exactness from the tools and time available.
The résumé above left me in momentary despair as I wrote it, and I even felt a kind of upset at having intruded on my friends with my continuing experiment in Facebook micro-blogging. (I don't feel enough upset to cease and desist, though, and for that I apologize in advance for 2017.)