What exactly are people loving about this book?
11 November 2009
I was completely annoyed by Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea. A little background:
I kind of knew I was going to be annoyed by this book. I've avoided reading it for years, even though it was a big crowd-pleaser when I worked at the library, and I can't recall that I've ever read a bad review of it. As noted earlier this week, I am one of those nasty people who often dislikes the crowd pleasers, so I thought I'd save us all some time and skip it. But then my dad asked for it, as a neighbor had told him to read it, and he wanted to know what I thought of it, so I had to explain to him why I hadn't read it.* Then, because he was going to read it, I thought I might as well listen to it on CD and then we could at least chat it over when we were done.
But it's not going to happen. I have listened to six CDs (of an 11-CD set) and I can't listen to any more. The subject matter is fine: Mortenson tried to climb K2 in Pakistan in tribute to his sister, who died at too young an age; failed in his attempt because he rescued someone else; was assisted in his descent by some of the Pakistani locals; and was so touched by their generosity and their stoic acceptance of their harsh environment that he pledged to return and build a school for their community. Which he did, and then did in other communities. I'm bailing out of this narrative right after he got a bridge built in Pakistan (he had to build that before he could build the school) and married his soulmate, so I'm going to have to live without knowing what happened with all the other schools.**
So what is the problem(s)? Well, for me, they are, in no particular order:
1. A large part of the first chunk of the book describes Mortenson's climbing exploits. I do not like mountain climbers. Just thinking about them (not all of them, but enough) leaving their spent tanks of oxygen all over the worlds' mountains annoys me.
2. Mortenson seems to have a bit more self esteem than I enjoy in a person. He introduces himself to some Pakistani children as "Greg" and "good." Who does that? I'd quibble less with the word "friendly," and sure, maybe I'm being overly picky, but the fact remains that I like people with a little more doubt in their soul. ("Citizen Reader. Hopefully good, but, you know, given the right circumstances, I'll bet I could do some pretty petty and/or scary shit.")
3. When he meets his soulmate and future wife, they go back to her apartment together, where she tells him "Welcome to my life," and he tells her "Welcome to my heart." At that point I snorted with laughter, said to the dishes I was doing, "Who are these people?", and then turned off the CD.
Please note: I am not against inspiring personal stories or philanthropists in general. It's just that there are many better books out there about people trying to make the world a better place: Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains, for one, and Melissa Faye Greene's There Is No Me Without You for another.
*Trying to explain to your father that you're a bitter and snobby person is always just a bit awkward.
**I'm pretty sure I can live without knowing.