Monday, February 18, 2008

More from my reading list, or a guilt trip

Fog in Cascades
Not quite K2 but mountains, nonetheless.

I guess I am on a roll for book reviews. This is generally a good thing, unless I am boring you, the gentle reader (or not-reader as the case may be). I seem also to be on a non-fiction kick. My reading habits signal a lot about my mental state. No books or no books I'd care to admit to in public, means I am tired and low on energy. If I'm only reading "comfort books," in other words, books I read 14 times when I was a kid, then I'm depressed. For the years of medical school, graduate school, kid #1 in diapers, residency, fellowship, kid #2 in diapers, I hardly read anything not assigned reading unless it was a beach novel on one of my rare vacations.
Then a miracle happened. I quit my insane, 60 hours a week plus call job, started working for myself and my kids aged out of diapers. Books started looking like something other than useful doorstops. I have only read one novel in French in the past 10 years, but that requires that my brain cells be on overdrive. So anyway, here is another book review.
This time I wandered over to Pakistan and another kind of poverty. Sometimes I wonder about books that are shamelessly promoted at Border's but this one came recommended by a family member. The book is Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. The book had a few interesting prerequisites: an exotic locale, a do-gooder mentality, and some very tall mountains. So I read it. The premise is so hard to believe that I wonder if I should check it out on the net (since I fell so ignominiously for A Million Little Pieces--see this post).
But I choose to believe that not everyone who is noble, heroic or addicted in this world is a liar. So I choose to believe that Mortenson really is a former mountaineer who gave it up to build schools for Muslim children, especially girls, in Pakistan and later Afghanistan. Other than the obstinacy necessary to attempt an assault on K2, Mortenson has none of the obvious credentials for a major philanthropist. After getting lost on the way down a mountain, Mortenson stumbles into a village of friendly but poor people who help him recover from his ordeal. He learns they dream of having a school for their children and one thing leads to another. Next thing you know Mortenson is building schools throughout two countries, learning to pray like a good Muslim, being kidnapped by bandits (does he know Venkatesh of my previous book review?), and heading a major charitable organization. All of it is in the name of peace, love, fraternity and education.
So, what does this have to do with guilt trips? Well, books like this make me, and probably most other people with Catholic or Jewish guilt, feel like we ought to be doing more for this world. Even though I am in a helping profession, I haven't changed the lives of thousand of poor children in a far off country. I ponder joining Doctors Without Borders or the Peace Corps. I wonder if I should retrain in surgery (not) so I can repair cleft lips and palates in a third world country. As traveling in third world countries has alas taught me, I don't have the GI tract for unsanitary living conditions. I think in a month or so, I'd wind up a casualty of my own charitable inclinations, getting IV rehydration salts and using up the scarce supply of antibiotics. Which makes for a convenient excuse to hang out here at home doing what I am best at, helping American kids and adults deal with their own traumas.
Anyway, I am not trying to tell you how I console myself for my own role in world affairs. There is always someone out there who is better, smarter, poorer, more talented or holier than thou or thee. If you like this kind of thing, read this book. It is a great read, whether as an adventure story or as the book jacket proclaims, as "a testament to the power of the humanitarian spirit." Besides, Borders has it on the "buy 1, get 2nd 50% off" table.


ImperfectNerd said...

Sar, feel no guilt. You pass on what needs to be seen, said, and read, and perform a valuable service. Oh that we all had the time to be everywhere at once, but they haven't invented a machine yet that will do that. I once said that the only thing faster than the speed of light is imagination. I gave credit for this quote to a great writer at the time because people would swallow that easier than my saying it was me. Sometimes we have to fudge a bit and adjust ourselves to the biases and perceptions of this world. And we certainly have to recognize our physical limitations, but so long as we pursue what we know is right and true, I believe that God and his angels forgive.

Kathe said...

That book is on my must-read list! I just haven't picked up a copy yet.

JL said...

Eh. Don't feel guilty. I mean, if your beliefs demand it, sure, but I wouldn't bother.

Someone will always be starving or oppressed somewhere. And really, people who run off to foreign climes to save indigenous peoples, but won't drive through a neighborhood in Chicago, make me want to puke.

Say, do you think a pro Flickr account is worth it? Do you really get unlimited everything? It might be a good venue for some graphic novels I've been sitting on.

Just asking.