The winter break was everything I had hoped it would be. A few friends have asked, “Did you snorkel?” “Did you take a helicopter ride?” “Did you parasail?”
Other than enjoying tropical breezes, almost uninterrupted sun, and the occasional hike through gorgeous natural scenery in Hawai’i, I did not tackle adventure on this vacation.
My family still reminds me of the vacation we spent in the Caribbean. I rented a Hobie Cat and took the family out into the harbor. It took us about 10 minutes to sail from the beach to the mouth of the harbor. The prevailing winds were out of the harbor, and sailing back into the wind would require more sailing skill than I possessed. At that point, I turned to my children, then around 10 and 12, and asked them to sail us back to the beach, into the wind. My wife and I had made sure they had a couple of sailing lessons in a small harbor off of Lake Michigan. I assumed the two hours they spent in 8 foot Sunfish sailboats had prepared them for the open seas. They both looked at me with a mixture of fear and incomprehension, and my wife started yelling at me, thinking for some reason that since I had engineered this entire fiasco and sailed us almost out of the safety of the harbor, I had some idea on how to get us back safely. Four hours later (after embarrassingly running into a 40-foot sailboat moored on one side of the harbor while the horrified owners tried to wave us away with their hands), we returned to land. My family does not do adventure with me.
I spent my time reading. I read on the plane, on the beach, by the pool, in my room, everywhere I could. I tore through 3 1/2 books. It was glorious. I had not spent so much dedicated time reading since graduate school. I read Rabindranath Tagore’s The Home and the World, a gift from a friend. I balanced this fictional account of Bangladeshi independence in the 1920’s with Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. The contrast between the lives of early-2oth century Bangladeshi aristocracy and present-day residents of a slum smashed up against the Mumbai airport filled out my developing sense of India, building on my knowledge from a visit to Bangalore in 2007 and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, one of my favorite novels and a magical telling of the life of an Indian family set in 1975. I also read Neal Stephenson’s Reamde. I have long been a fan of Stephenson, and Reamde fit the bill for action-packed narco/terrorist/hacker/survivalist interactions. Plenty of mayhem and chaos round out the unalloyed fun. It was a great vacation read.
As for the 1/2 book of the 3 1/2 I read while on vacation, I am now about 5/7’s of the way through Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree. This book has gripped me like no other in a long time. It makes me want to be back in school, reading this book, showing up for class with my inline notes and yellow highlighting, ready to debate with classmates the implications of medical technological advances on the Deaf or Down Syndrome communities. As my wife will attest, I babble to every friend I know about the urgency of them reading this book. I love Solomon’s writing, and his construct for looking at children and families with special abilities is changing how I look at the world.
What I learned on winter vacation is that if you want a fun read, read Reamde. If you want to expand your understanding of the Indian Sub-continent, go with the trilogy mentioned above. If you want to change your life, read Far From the Tree.