Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cheered by the holidays

I hope that your holiday was a festive one. For me, the best part of the past three days (including today) was having some time for myself that didn’t involve work. I love my job, but regardless of my fondness for work, it’s still nine to 10 hours of my day that is spoken for, not given to rare multiple choices of things to do.

For instance, having the leisure to prepare dinner Christmas night, with my wife, without time constraints, or feeling the usual crush that accompanies typical work nights was refreshing. We whipped up a wonderful meal of Farmer’s Pasta, a recipe courtesy of Food Network star, Giada DeLaurentis. This combination of four cheeses, pancetta, and creaminess, made it the perfect kind of Christmas comfort food. In addition to this great dish, I threw together killer Caesar Salad, another DeLaurentis contribution to our Christmas. The key here was the dressing, flavored by anchovies, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and Dijon mustard, superior to any supermarket concoction.

In addition to some wonderful food, which included this morning’s breakfast of locally-produced sausage from Maurice Bonneau’s Sausage Kitchen, now relocated to lovely downtown Lisbon Falls, along with some awesome Mimosa’s, and my own version of the traditional omelette, Miss Mary and I have enjoyed the luxury of time together, which might be one of the best parts of the holiday season—spending it with those you love.

This was our first Christmas in 25 years that our son, Mark, couldn’t be with us. That was tough because Mark possesses a larger-than-life presence that is particularly noticeable when not around. We managed to satisfy ourselves with two phone calls, one where he and I talked Celtics’ basketball like we would if he and I were sitting across the table from one another. This completed another circle in our lives, as the year he was born, a quarter century ago, was Mary and my first Christmas away from family. Mark was just six days old at the time, and we spent Christmas 1,500 miles from our extended families.

One of my favorite activities associated with having no constraints on my time, is the luxury of being able to devote hours to reading. As a lover of books, reading time is always hard to come by most times during the year. Despite demands on my time, I always have two or more books going at once, managing to plow through 40 to 50 books per year. Yesterday, I was able to finish Diane Roberts’ Dream State: Eight Generations of Swamp Lawyers, Conquistadors, Confederate Daughters, Banana Republicans, and Other Florida Wildlife. The Roberts book is one I meant to read back in 2006, during our final spring baseball trip, following Mark and his Wheaton teammates as they spent another 10 days in the Florida sun, prepping for what would be a season of magic.

The four springs that Mary and I spent in Florida, along with two prior forays—a Disney trip when Mark was 12, and one extended weekend in November 2005, unwinding after the completion and launch of When Towns Had Teams—helped formulate some understanding of the Sunshine State that extended beyond the typical Fodor’s, or AAA tourist propaganda. Roberts’ book brought an even more complete tearing away of the false fa├žade that creates the accepted mythology of tourists, and even residents that has become Florida, dating back a century, or even further.

Speaking of books and publishing, Sara Nelson, who is Editor-in-Chief at Publishers Weekly, was on C-Span2’s Book TV, talking about book and the nature of bookselling. Nelson said that book sales, like all retail, were down this holiday retail season. However, while publishing as we all know it will inevitable not stay the same, she writes on her blog “…that in the long run, …when the dust settles – and it will settle– there have always been stories, people to read them, and people to produce and disseminate them. Whether those stories (and people) will be part of large corporations, whether the stories will be measured in pages or bytes, and whether there will be hundreds of thousands of them produced every year—well, that we’ll have to see.”

For me, the single most telling trait about someone’s intellectual acuity is whether they read, or not. In my way of seeing the world, reading is essential to being able to sort and sift information in the midst of the snowstorm of white noise buffeting all of us in society. Those who haven’t developed the skills that are only acquired through reading, aren’t capable of critically conducting the required sorting of scarce pearls from the mass of swinish faux factuality.

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