One thing I have had a little bit of free time for, however, is reading. I've already mentioned The Lobster Coast and Red Sox Century; currently I'm working my way through a few other titles, as well.
First there's The True History of Chocolate, by Sophie and Michael Coe, which (as the title suggests) follows the fortunes of the cacao plant and its magical little beans from its earliest cultivation in the New World to its conquest of the Old World, from the potent drink of Aztec kings - the word chocolate comes from the Aztec xocotl meaning bitter and atl meaning water - to the modern confections of Hershey, Cadbury, and Godiva. A sad bit about this book, however: although Sophie Coe did virtually all of the research for The True History of Chocolate, she unfortunately succumbed to cancer before she was able to write it, a task that her husband Michael carried through to completion after her death. The work is truly a labor of love.
Sticking to the theme of food history, I'm also reading The World On a Plate: a Tour Through the History of America's Ethnic Cuisines, by Joel Denker - a book I started on a while back but got sidetracked from by the past few months of life. Now that things are relatively quiet I should be able to get back to it and enjoy it as I was before.
Then there's How Israel Lost, by Richard Ben Cramer. It's a thoroughly depressing book that attempts to navigate the morass of the modern Middle East and the currently abysmal state of Israeli-Palestinian relations in a way that is at the same time sympathetic and unforgiving to all parties involved. Cramer hoofs it all over Israel and the Territories, talking with retired hawks, peaceniks, Palestinians Authority goons, settlers, and even the mother of two Hamas martyrs. To say that he finds no easy answers is an understatement, but he makes a fairly good case that it is the quest for easy and decisive answers in Israel and Palestine that has gotten everyone into the present-day mess. Whatever your personal take on the situation, How Israel Lost is worth a read; even if you think you know everything there is to know about the current conflict, you're bound to learn something from Cramer's investigative odyssey.