The Bough That Does Not Graft

Seamus Heaney

What is it about a writer’s final posthumous work that so haunts us? Perhaps because it offers one last glimpse of mastery, or helps unify the writer’s oeuvre, or offers the gift of a parting embrace, we grant such writings special significance. But are we obliged to read such works differently than those that kindled our desire and affection when the writer was living? When the dead speak, should we judge what they say, or simply be grateful that they have spoken?

When Seamus Heaney died in 2013, he left behind a Nobel Prize-winning body of lyric poems, essays, and translations. Readers mourned the loss of his consonant-crusted music, his unflinching self-scrutiny, his evocative landscapes, and his deft handling of the religious and political conflict in Northern Ireland.

Under the Iconic Hawaiian Shirt

The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands is the comprehensive book on Hawaiian shirts. It is to West Coast style, or to an important component of same, what The Official Preppy Handbook is to East Coast style—though less droll, I’m sorry to say.

Originally published in 2000, it has been resurrected for another go-around by the lifestyle clothing company Patagonia to complement the lifestyle of its affluent, outdoor adventure-seeking customers, who no doubt will buy the volume to decorate their vacation bungalows in Seaside, Florida.

A Failure of Intelligence

The Angel by Uri Bar-Joseph is a book that should be required reading—as a terrible warning—for everyone involved in intelligence. It is the tale of how an intelligence agency, despite having the best information imaginable, can still get it wrong. Bar-Joseph recounts how, prior to the Yom Kippur War of 1973 when Israel suffered a near-fatal blow, Israel had been given detailed knowledge of Egypt’s plans thanks “to an exceptionally rare situation in the history of espionage: the direct assistant to the leader of a country preparing to launch an attack on its enemy was a secret agent on behalf of that enemy.”

Appalachian Sneer

Rocky Top in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Appalachian Trail

You’ll want to like Robert Moor’s On Trails: An Exploration, a history of trails and trail-making, interspersed with his account of hiking the Appalachian Trail—all 2,200 miles of the American mountain path, from its beginnings in Georgia to its ending in Maine. You’ll want to like the book because, after all, who doesn’t enjoy a good nature tale? A fine story about a long walk in the woods?

For that matter, you’ll want to like the book because the author intends his work to be captivating, in exactly the way non-fiction books today are supposed to be captivating.