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11 November 2009


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CR: I find your jaded cynicism intoxicating. I too tend to not like crowd pleasers. Sometimes I find out years after the popularity of book that some crowd pleasers are worth it. But most of the time they just disappear, and I am better off never having troubled myself.

Well, thank you. I don't know about "intoxicating," but "jaded cynicism" I'll accept. My mother always just asks how I got so bitter.

Yeah, the crowd-pleasers. I shouldn't be so nasty in these reviews, because sometimes I am just curious to hear what people like about some of these books. I probably should just steer clear of them (that's a good idea you have--and to let them disappear) but I got used to reading them when I worked at the library, and wanted to know a bit about the books everyone wanted to check out. I did want to try and be helpful if anyone wanted a "similar read" to titles like this, but mostly it just depressed me because it felt like so many people spent all their reading time with books like this, and never were open to the smaller gems.

When Dad first asked me if I'd read this, I said, "no, ugh, bandwagon book," which is how I think about a certain category of books: everyone just gets on the bandwagon, and pretty soon it's assumed to be a good book just because it sells (Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture" comes to mind too). I perhaps err too much on the side of thinking it's a bad book if it sells too much, though, so I should remind myself not always to give in to the ol' jaded cynicism.

Uggh I read this two years ago and while I thought what Greg Mortenson did was moving and book-worthy, the writing was TERRIBLE. I couldn't get past it. I ended up finishing the book just because I was curious about his story. Someone helped him write it? Unbelievable.

Ah, Lu, that was something I forgot to note in the review: the book is by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. So the writing fault may not be all Mr. "Greg, Good"'s. But I don't know if that made it worse or better--that Mortenson had help writing it, or that this type of writing passes muster for nonfiction bestsellers. I found it a bit clunky, myself; do you remember what you disliked about the style? Or just that it was terrible?

This book convinced me that even clueless and self-absorbed wads can do good in the world. That doesn't mean it makes a good book. And didn't you just love how clear it was that his co-author/ghost writer thought he was a massive tool?

In a similar vein, I saw John Wood (Leaving Microsoft to Change the World) speak a couple years ago, and was really inspired and impressed by his organization. Have the book but have not read it, so can't really compare the two examples of the genre. When I met him he did seem kinda like a self-absorbed wad, so maybe to take on something like this you have to be a...self-absorbed wad.

Also loathed Loving Frank. Eat, Pray, Love, I kinda liked in spite of itself (but I liked her fiction, too).

Lesson: 90% of the bestseller list is to be avoided. There's just no reliable way to tell which 90%.

Also, CR is the coolest person ever, for many reasons!!

'Welcome to my life' was probably more like 'hey, come on in' when it happened.

You made it further than I did. I think I only got a couple of pages read before I gave up.

It was poorly written but I'm glad I read it. It's basically the story of a regular Joe who didn't have the sense to dissuade himself from such an undertaking. I liked reading about his bumbling efforts to break into the elite world of philanthropy. Plus, honoring his sister by building schools for girls in probably what is the most misogynistic area of the world just lights my fire. Mountains Beyond Mountains is one of my favorite books.

BTW - I detested the romance...soulmate part too. Think I may have shipped ahead.

Rachael, Sherry,
The more I think about it, the more I realize I had no business reading this book. I think as I think about it more and discuss with you all the subject matter really did disturb me more than I originally let on. I respect the opinion that Mortenson did some good in the world (even if he was a self-absorbed wad, Rachael, I'm totally stealing that phrase from you to use in my everyday conversations), but it is hard for me to accept at face value. I don't know that I agree that educating Pakistani girls will contribute significantly to their happiness. (And I say this as a hypocrite, as someone who has had access to education and took advantage of it.) But I wonder if you asked a cross section of the mountain population in Pakistan and a cross section in the US, "are you happy?" what the results would be.

I know, I'm overthinking it. But something about this entire plan, even if he is a regular Joe, smacks uncomfortably to me of colonialism dressed up as kindness.

The text of this book did make it sound like the local residents asked for a school and for teachers, and were not getting anything from their own government, so perhaps I am way off base. But somehow when I read about those changing the world I am much more interested in those changing the world in their own neighborhood or culture, or in smaller ways. (And part of what I liked about Mountains Beyond Mountains was that Dr. Paul Farmer lives, pretty much all the time, where he works, in Haiti and Rwanda.)

Anyway. Rachael, do you think his co-author thought he was a massive tool? That wasn't the tone I got...but maybe I got it all wrong. Also: I am not cool at all, as you can see, since I just finished picking on, by all accounts, a dedicated humanitarian.

Or "come hither, baby."

Yes, I should have given up sooner. I knew going in it probably wasn't going to work out...but I did want to try.

Nothing to add to this, but this comment string is one of the best in awhile.

I agree, Tripp. It's actually been a fabo month for comments, I think. I'm so thankful for the comments; it's like a great book club every day. Talking books over here has added such a rich extra dimension to my reading life, I really appreciate it.

Modesty, I say!

You may want to pick up "when everything changed" about American women since 1960. It's interesting to see how access to higher ed and the inability to use it for those in school in the 50s and 60s influenced things for those of us born since around 1970. It might shade your thoughts about him insisting girls be included in the schools. But I so get what your saying.

if you had slogged through the whole mess you would have seen how annoying the co-author found him. I read this with my book club and we ALL agreed on that.

You also should avoid Kabul Beauty School. I actually told all my book club cohorts that I think the author is an idiot. That book just really bugged me.

I saw him on Oprah and stopped. right. there.

Actually, I think I will look into the book you suggest; it seems interesting. I agree that if you have a school, both boys and girls (who want to be) should be in it. It's not a gender issue, for me, really, it's wondering about different cultures and lifestyles and the true value of education in general.

Duly noted: I will avoid Kabul Beauty School.

Yes, I'm so horribly snobby that usually I play it safe and avoid Oprah altogether. :)

I got the audiobook, listened to about ten minutes of it, and loathed it. ;)

Actually, Eva, that makes me feel better, because I know you read a lot of global and current affairs books. I had the regular book too (I was passing it along to Dad) and I tried to read parts, thinking maybe the fact that it was an audio book was the problem, but that wasn't it.

Now don't you go picking on my Oprah. As much as I can't stand or don't care about 90% (minimum) of what she has on the show,* it's more entertaining than America's Next Top Model. Well... OK, I just like it when she has those hoarders on.

*Last night I couldn't face another book, so I switched between watching Criminal Minds, featuring Gavin-Rossdale-with-the-hot-worn-off-by-Gwen-Stefani and Oprah's DVRed interview with the attacked-by-her-pet-chimpanzee woman and had an upset stomach (literally) all. night. long.

Truce on Oprah--I myself did watch fifteen minutes of "America's Next Top Model" last night while waiting for "Glee" to come on. See? I like to balance the snobbery with complete pop culture wallowing.

Wow, is it possible to de-hot Gavin Rossdale? I wouldn't have thought so. Sad.

Hope your stomach's better today!

My daughter was assigned this book last year as part of a "one book one school" project culminating in hearing the author lecture. In the process I found I have sort of a six-degrees-of-separation connection to Greg through my husband's college roommate. Still I couldn't bring myself to read it. I appreciate good deeds and educating poor Pakistani girls is a good thing, I just don't want to read about it.

In my mid-50s I've come to strongly embrace the trite "so many books, so little time". This one doesn't make the cut. That doesn't mean I've never read a worthless book, but then again I on occasion prefer luscious chocolate to good-for-you broccoli.

I can certainly see why you wouldn't really want to read this book; the writing is clunky, and really, you don't learn much through reading it other than the plot summary of this book, "american builds schools for poor Pakistani girls." I agree with you that there's lots of books in the sea--which is why I stopped listening to this one when I did. I'll never run out of dishes to do (which is when I listen to books on tape) but there's plenty of other tapes I'm more interested in. Next up: E.M. Forster's Room with a View.

Oof, I don't know that I'd assign this one as school reading, though. It's not a poster child for good writing or compelling storytelling. Unless we're training students today to engage in oversentimentalized literature and broad bad vs. good thinking. Which we probably are.

Now I see my typo, d'oh!...I meant skipped ahead not shipped ahead through the wonderful story of Greg & his girlfriend/wife.

To expand more on my thoughts about what I found compelling in this story is the average guy (except for the extreme mountain climbing) creates a huge philanthropic effort in his own unstudied way (ex. his humble first letter that only Tom Brokaw responded to). The guy's not smooth unlike who we see at some well-marketed charities. Take Alan Khazei (Be The Change, Inc.) for example, calls himself a social entrepreneur. He's using his publicity as head honcho of charities to get his millionaire butt into a senate seat. Just what we need another rich guy on Capitol Hill. His salary to manage of staff of maybe 15 or so people: $250,000+. Nice! I don't think he (Harvard College, Harvard Law School ever worked in the trenches) and moved in elite fund raising circles from the get go. Guess that's one aspect of the Paul Farmer story I like too. Farmer grew up in modest circumstances and spends time with the poorest of the poor, not campaigning for office.

Finished with my little rant. Thanks for the review though because it made me think about why I was inspired by Three Cups of Tea. It surely wasn't the quality of the writing.

I'm always glad to talk over books, not just to hear that we all share the same opinions, but to hear how we differ. It's always nice too to give the books we're reading and liking a little thought, and to examine why we like them.

I agree with you that philanthropy on the way to politics is pukey. (A lot of alliteration!) I will agree with you that at least Mortenson put some elbow grease into it, and I don't think it's made him rich. I can respect that.

p.s. We love rants here at Citizen Reader, so thanks for sharing yours!

I liked this book, but because it proves that any schmo can get a lot accomplished, and for a good cause, if he/she puts his/her mind to it. I agree with the others that the co-author's writing left a lot to be desired. It's probably no coincidence that Mortenson's upcoming sequel has a different co-author (and yes, I plan to read it eventually).

"Mortenson seems to have a bit more self esteem than I enjoy in a person."

A fetching line. I shall procure it and exhibit it at will.

I'm glad I posted about this book, because I honestly wouldn't have thought of the "regular schmo" appeal. But that is a result of my own mental blocks; I tend to think of mountain climbers as people with more money than sense. I can't help it! I just do. So it's been very valuable to learn about the "regular guy" angle. When does his new book come out. "Stones into Schools" or something, is it called?

Glad to oblige. I steal your lines on a daily basis (you won the Internets!) so it's only fair if I give some back.

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