Last night, my Facebook news feed exploded. It was one in the morning and almost everyone I knew was up in arms – the most horrible thing had happened. They were tearing their hair out, cursing their lives, rolling in agony. The Wisconsin Badgers lost to Arizona State University on a terrible call – or lack of call as it may be.
Now, I am guilty of this behavior as well. I even woke up still angry about it. (Really, it was crap – the refs just walked off the field! I mean – well, never mind. You can read about/see the madness here. )
That being said, I felt a bit sheepish this morning. How is it that football is the only thing about which we can jointly get overwhelmed? Shouldn’t we be much more upset about the lack of world peace and starving children? I’m no bleeding heart, but sometimes there are just bigger things in life. To make up for my own shortcomings, I decided I would make a short list of books that have helped to give me a bit of perspective.
1) The Road of Lost Innocence: True Story of a Cambodian Heroine by Somaly Mam
Sometimes it’s not about the quality of the writing, or the style. Sometimes it’s just the purpose of the story, the reason for writing it. That alone makes this book worth reading. Mam’s ability to tell her story and the stories of others with a real, intricate, and critical eye just makes it that much better. I don’t think I need to give you any more information about that – I think this book should be read in an effort to make people, especially those in the west, understand that human trafficking and forced prostitution is a huge and horrendous problem and there are people out there still living with it, and people like Mam, who are actively fighting against it.
2) Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan
This book is unbelievable – it is SO good. If you can listen to the audio book version; do it. Conor Grennan narrates it himself. He’s fantastic at it and unbearably funny – something I did not expect to find in a book with such a serious and heartbreaking subject. It adds a great element to reading non-fiction like this and I really appreciate it. He had such an incredible experience and story. There are so many parts that will make your heart stop. Wonderfully done.
3) Wine to Water by Doc Hendley
I saw Doc Hendley speak at a conference, prompting me to buy his book. Why did I buy it, you ask? Well, I’m a sucker for any memoir, particularly one where the individual goes off and does something pretty awesome. So I know I would like this book before I even read a single word. Doc Hendley is obviously an amazing person. I had the opportunity to speak with him briefly and sneak a picture with him. He’s a guy who decided to get passionate about helping the world. I’m both envious and guilty/thankful that I haven’t done the same. It’s definitely hard work to go out there and do good.
To the point of the book itself, I do have to say he’s obviously not a writer. The book isn’t painful, and it’s really quite quick for how reasonable thick it is, but I didn’t find it completely drew me in like other books I have read that take place in the area. To me, the book seemed repetitive – certain stories and situations came up numerous times without a clear distinction of their difference. Plus – since I saw him speak – I had heard some of the stories before (obviously that won’t be most people’s problem but it still challenged my reading).
That aside it is worth reading the book just to understand how lame most of us are in comparison. It’s also worth reading the book to persuade you to donate; or volunteer somewhere yourself.
4) A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
Ishmael Beah told his story straight up – this is what happened and this is what he felt. This is one of those stories where I had to keep reminding myself, “This is a memoir, this is not fiction.” I honestly can’t say much about this other than that you should read it. It is one of those books that really means something. Great memoir.
5) Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi
“If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn’s prayer.”
I found this to be one of the most powerful lines out of a book that, if you let yourself really see, always kept you gasping for air. This is a book that never should have been written, because it is a tragedy that never should have happen. But because it did, we must all read and never, ever understand.
5) We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
“Odette nodded at my notebook, where I was writing as she spoke. ‘Do the people in America really want to read this? People tell me to write these things down, but it’s written inside of me. I almost hope for the day when I can forget.'”
Mind numbing, mind boggling, and mind blowing. Gourevitch manages to write this book with clarity and depth and in a way that tells me all the brutal facts but without completely overwhelming me as a reader. I really appreciate that I felt he was able to really convey to me the horrors and emotions but didn’t do it in such a way that I had to put the book down for a while. Because this is kind of lengthy, I really value that aspect. Well done and I think a great reminder that while this was published in 1999 there are still horrible things happening in that region.