Saturday, June 11, 2011

What I Read

Today is a beautiful African "winter" day. The sun is shining, it's warm enough for flip-flops and I'm not wearing a hat, gloves or a blanket. Yay! I've spent most of the morning outside, basking the precious warmth for the first time in quite a while. During the late cold spell, when it was too cold to go outside, I spent a lot of time in bed with a book. I averaged about one book a day. It was ridiculous. My source of reading material was the school library. Between Books for Africa and the Northern Cape provincial library service, Moshaweng High School has quite the selection. There's everything from Shakespeare to John Grisham, including Agatha Christie, Sue Grafton and a host of unknowns.

First, I worked my way through Mary Higgins Clark-style mysteries which I once really enjoyed, but Stieg Larsson's trilogy has spoiled me and now the other books pale in comparison. I moved on to New York Times bestsellers by unfamiliar, and often first-time, authors. My only conclusion is that there must be no correlation between the bestsellers list and actual book quality. I wondered how a few of them even got published. I disliked Eat, Pray, Love, but at least it was coherent. In the interest of not bashing relative newbies to the literary world, my lips are sealed as to book titles and authors not worth your time. I'll let you discover them on your own.

However, I will tell you that the book I just finished last night was rather good. It's Nick Hornby's How to be Good. I tried reading another of Hornby's books (the Polysyllabic Spree) but I just couldn't get through it. How to be Good was a different story. Compared to authors I've indulged in recently, Hornby is a seasoned professional, and it shows. The book has definite structure and a distinct style. The theme is obvious and interesting. The plot is somewhat bizarre and not exactly enjoyable (a middle-aged couple on the brink of divorce, saved by an alternative "healer"), but Hornby's voice is amusing enough that I muddled through and wound up with some quality food for thought.

The premise of How to be Good is that everyone wants to be good. Everyone knows how to be good. But no one really is good. No one is willing to act on their beliefs, at least not to the full extent of their potential to be "good". As a Peace Corps volunteer whose job description might be summed up simply as "do-gooder", Hornby's analysis of the chasm between morality and charity was thought-provoking. As much as like to think, "I'm in Peace Corps! I'm a good person!" That isn't necessarily true. I could do more. I could do better. I'm not inherently "good", and unless you donate most of your income, give away your possesions and let the homeless sleep in your spare room, neither are you. How to be Good won't make you feel warm and fuzzy, but it is a good book and it may help you justify however much you spend on movies and take-aways instead of donating to, oh, say, Save Darfur.

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