Last night I arrived back in NYC, after 2+ weeks in Munich, including a 4-day excursion to the lovely town of Malcesine by Lake Garda in Italy. Though it was very enjoyable I'm also glad to be back, and wish I could leave NYC for longer periods in the winter rather than the summer.
One fun thing about vacations is the chance to do a lot more leisure reading, though I try to maintain this year-round. So herewith my book report from the trip:
1) Michael Lewis, The Big Short - Lewis is always entertaining, and though the bestseller style of telling different individuals' stories might itself seem slight, he consistently gets his finger on important broader themes, here no less than in Liar's Poker and Moneyball. Shocking and distressing to read about the astounding idiocy that cratered the world economy starting in 2007, and it really makes one wonder how/if a market economy can function (which is not to say the alternatives will help).
2) Paul Hodge, Higher Than Everest: An Adventurer's Guide to the Solar System - This little-known item was a delightful vacation read. Written as an adventure travel guide for later in the 21st Century, it whimsically posits that some modest technological advances have made it possible for the reader to visit all of the most fun and exciting spots in the Solar System (mountains on Venus, the ocean beneath Europa's crust, the methane lakes on Titan, "snowboarding" through Saturn's rings, etc.). Beneath this conceit it combines detailed description of what we know about various planets and moons with plausible speculation about how any of these visits might actually be accomplished. Only disappointment is that it was written before some of the most recent developments, e.g., the Huygens probe's Titan landing and Pluto's demotion to planetoid. Time for a revised edition?
3)Valerie Martin, The Confessions of Edward Day - Martin is a very good contemporary fiction writer, best known for Property (narrated by a slaveholder's wife in 1828 Louisiana). This one is set in 1970s New York among aspiring actors. Well-written, some good underlying ideas, but I found the resolution a bit disappointing.
4) Neil MacFarquhar, The Media Relations Department of Hezbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday - former NYT reporter in the Middle East gives a more inside view than one normally gets of the Arab societies that get so caricatured and demonized out here. But then again, reading about Saudi Arabia was authentically horrifying.
5) Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants - very readable fiction set mainly in a 1931 traveling circus amid the Great Depression. Good reading material for the beach and plane, but a bit of a stunt and could have had more depth. I found myself making invidious comparisons to Getting It, on the view that mine has more motivation and depth of viewpoint (though a farce not a realized world), but that's just me being a bit self-conscious or self-centered.
6) Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man - One day in a man's life, brings to mind Ian McEwan (who may perhaps have learned from it), impressive and affecting, easily the best thing I read on the trip from a pure literary standpoint.
7) Martha Schwab, Ludwig II - brief review of the life of a silly 19th century Bavarian king who, as Bertie Wooster might say, made rather an ass of himself building palaces and worshipping / ordering around Richard Wagner while Bismarck, almost next-door in Prussia, was engaged in considerably more serious work. Ended up being deposed on grounds of insanity and then apparently drowning himself the next day. Of interest because we had visited the Neufschwanstein Castle that he built outside Munich, real-life model for the well-known visual of the Disney castle. The site itself was Disneyland plus short-distance hiking and minus the rides.