'Tis high summer, and vacations are being auspicated whether we like it or not. Mosquitoes, chiggers and poison ivy are about to strike a blow for the environment, reminding me once again of a timeless truth, to wit: we must get the environment before it gets us. Vacationland awaits, and kids are being cruelly ripped from the bosoms of their neighborhood gangs, slammed into station wagons and hauled thither, squalling and resentful. When they reach their sunny destinations, there will be hell to pay.
Hence, it is time to consider an urgent question. How can the intelligent American make the summer vacation tolerable and still remain within the bounds of child-abuse laws. I always suggest some books and an ennobling cocktail. This summer, I prescribe the Italian negroni (equal parts Campari, Italian Sweet Vermouth and gin), and here are my literary remedies.
Begin with history, for though the neo-isolationists of the Spring Peace Follies would have it otherwise, there is no way for us to abscond from history. We are stuck with our responsibilities.
The four books I have in mind are "Strategies of Containment" by John Lewis Gaddis, "America in Search of Itself" by Theodore H. White, "Why We Were in Vietnam" by Norman Podhoretz and "Years of Upheaval," the second volume of Henry Kissinger's memoirs. In years past, I have been exceedingly niggardly in my praise of both White and Kissinger, so stingy in fact that some thought me critical, and the ex-secretary of state judged me slanderous, possibly treasonous.
Well, both men have written very good books this time, so let us consider my earlier pronouncements vitriol under the bridge. Both are fine storytellers who keep the tympany rumbling stirringly throughout, thanks to their sense of history. Many Americans yearn for history, which, I suspect, is why the TV networks can sell so much patent medicine during the melodramatizations of history, the evening news. In these books, readers will get history intelligently presented from one writer who has made history and from another who has been reporting it for over 25 years.
White's book is a summation of his quarter century of reporting presidential elections. Kissinger's book is the chronicle of his stewardship over American foreign policy during the Watergate spectacle. Of all those who have described the gory contest, he is one of the few to have looked beyond the bleeding gladiators and considered the condition of the audience, the city, the world. It is a very important book.
Podhoretz's book is very important, too, and perhaps even more candid. He tells a shocking tale: America was morally right to be in Vietnam. Thanks to the pervasive diktats of our liberal mullahs, America is increasingly becoming a land in which it is haram to speak the truth. On a whole range of progressive issues one must follow the mullahs' haranguing or be stoned. Podhoretz was, of course, stoned for this book, which is another reason for reading it--live dangerously! Wave it in the face of a fan of Jane Fonda; she has turned to writing fat-removal manuals. Finally, lay hands on a copy of John Lewis Gaddis' "Strategies of Containment." It is a scholarly history of American foreign policy in the postwar period that will remind you of what ground we have traversed and instruct you on the occasionally bizarre ways foreign policy is made.
For entertainment of a different sort, read V.S. Naipaul's chronicle of his sojourn through the rancorous and absurd realms of Islam, "Among the Believers." Naipaul may be the finest novelist writing today. In this book, he reminds us again of his talents as a journalist. "A Bend in the River" is a recent novel that is now available in paperback, and, of course, so is Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited." It is full of grand prose; who cares how he esteemed the hoity-toity or the supernatural?
In closing, let me suggest two books from William F. Buckley Jr. & Son. William F. has come out with his best Blackford Oakes spy thriller yet, "Marco Polo, If You Can;" and his son, Christopher, has written an absorbing account of life at sea. "Steaming to Bamboola." The book is alive and literate. Obviously when the Buckleys go on vacation, they take books along..