Saturday, November 6, 2010

Reading Notes: More tea, please.

Photo Credit: Flickr
I know my first comments on Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea were less than stellar. And surprising to me, a lot of you agreed! But literally, about three pages after I left off my comments, things picked up, and I ended up finishing this book on the subway, trying to hold back tears so I wouldn't be that crazy person crying on the subway. I know. I was as surprised as you.

Yeah, so the dual author thing is still kind of weird (though I hear that Mortenson is the only author on his next book, so maybe the dual author thing was common criticism). But I wonder if writing from a first person perspective on this whole experience would make it sound more...narcissistic. And my thoughts are—it probably would.

So a lot happens in the second half of this book. Mortenson gets held quasi-hostage for a few days; he seriously expands his school-building efforts thanks to the formation of an official foundation, the Central Asia Institute; and 9/11 happens and changes a lot in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Suddenly, he's not the only American interested in the region, as the cities he frequents are now flooded by news media. But the contrast of intentions between Greg and everyone else is like night and day, which is pretty telling in how our nation thought and reacted immediately after an attack. One reporter who happens to meet Greg and hear his story ends up writing an article in Parade magazine that seriously boosts Greg's notoriety. While the funds in his foundation's bank account receive a big surge, he also gets a lot of threats and negativity about his efforts from a conflicted, sensitive American public.

I finished this book feeling both inspired and frustrated, which is how, I'm sure, a lot of people walked away from it. And it wasn't frustration from anything about the writing or the structure—I forgot all of that once I got into the meat of the story. It was that this is such an inspiring story, such evidence of how (as lame and cliche as it sounds) one person can make a difference. But what's frustrating is that people don't care. Some people have such a limited view of the world that they don't realize the logic in Mortenson's efforts; and the people in charge don't see how small gestures are more effective than sweeping, expensive power-trips. And beyond mentality, most people will never take such risks to do something like this (myself completely included).

So I am left here in my comfortable, privileged apartment feeling completely inferior and unhelpful. But, that's why there are people like Greg Mortenson who can share their story, hopefully enlighten a lot of people, and get enough continued support from the people like me who aren't about to pack up and head to the Middle East to keep doing what he does.

I think if I was a librarian or a high school teacher, I'd make this a book club selection or required reading. Because, it's a story that contains a great look at a different perspective, which is something I think is always necessary to seek out and explore. I actually do want to read his follow-up, Stones into Schools now.

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