Thursday, December 27, 2007

87-91, plus the new goal

I have really fallen behind here!

87. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am not sure how I missed this book before now. This was incredibly well-written, and the topics that it covers, class divides and class mobility, are some in which I am particularly interested. I liked the detached narrator who frames the story. Gatsby, of course, was a very flawed person, but his flaws were much more appealling that Daisy's and Tom's flaws. His flaws stemmed from a yearning to improve his life, and be with someone that he loves, whereas Daisy and Tom only care about their own comfort and feelings. This was a very thought-provoking book.

88. Original Sin by P.D. James

This one made me cry. The story was absolutely tragic, and it very, very sad. James really works at her craft, exploring interesting questions, and transcending the mystery genre. Her characters are fully realized people, not stock characters that just move the puzzle along.

89. A Certain Justice by P.D. James

I enjoyed this one, as I do all of James' books, but I am not sure it was as good as Original Sin. Still, the story was intriguing, and the characters were fascinating, as always.

90. Have You Found Her by Janice Erlbaum

This was an Early Reviewer's book.

This was a fantastic book, for many reasons. First, Erlbaum is a great storyteller, keeping me turning pages all the way through. She is also very honest. As she describes her efforts to help Sam, a homeless junkie, and other girls at the same homeless shelter that she used when she was a teenage runaway, she reveals a lot about her own personality and life, not all of it flattering. Since she describes her behavior with a great deal of insight, she clearly learned a lot and grew as a person due to the experience, but it still must have been difficult to describe herself, flaws and all, so candidly. At times I wanted to shake her--how could she not realize that these girls were so damaged? Sure, she had gone through a similar experience and emerged successful and relatively stable, but she must have known many other street kids who did not have such good outcomes. When she describes her friends and family, none of them seem to have pasts that encompass street living. Yet, she seems to think that a little bit of care and listening from her will turn these kids around.

To be fair, she really does do a lot to help these girls, especially Sam, and she obviously does really care for them and want them to have better lives, from the very beginning. Also, she learns a lot from her experiences, obviously becoming a stronger person and more clear-headed about this all as the story progresses.

Most people who want to help those less fortunate themselves have this idealistic view of what helping others means. Even with a background that should help them to know better, they think they can just give a little and make a big difference. It also seems easy to compartmentalize this kind of giving—it’s something that a person does at certain specific times, and it doesn’t encroach on normal life, except for short anecdotes at parties to show how caring and noble the volunteer is. But when you work with damaged people, it isn’t that simple. These people have enormous needs that can’t be covered from 6:00 until 9:00 on Wednesday evenings, and they demand more than a casual volunteer with a life elsewhere is comfortable giving. Erlbaum does a great job of describing how she struggled with the desire to do more, help more, and still live her hard-won normal life.

91. Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick

Even in a world that seems to be governed by totally random forces, people struggle to impose meaning and control on their lives. Or, some people do, at least. This was a short book that managed to get in some very interesting discussions about the nature of free will and the laws that govern our universe.


So, what kind of goal am I going to do for next year? I am thinking about aiming for 100--I don't know if I will make it, but it seems like a good goal. It wouldn't even get through my tbr list, and you KNOW I am going to buy even more books. I just got 5 or 6 books yesterday with the gift card my brother gave me for Christmas (he was going to get me these cool shelves from Ikea, but they wouldn't accept a different ship to address than the billing address :-(), although one of them was cookbook, so I don't need to add it to the list. I am thinking that aiming to read more is a really good idea, because, as always, there is so much out there that I want to read! 100 it is.

I don't think I am done with this year, yet, though. There are still 4 whole days this year, plus tonight, and the kids are at their dad's until 12/31. I am sure I will get at least one more book on the list.


Tricia said...

Hi, Susan!

I'm not sure about the homeless thought...I would hope that most people see beyond the folk and into a soul.

We've been helping a homeless woman for about a year...sometimes, all she wants is someone to talk to, someone to remember her, the next time. Other times, she is needy.

I believe she is an angel, sent to give us normal folk the opportunity. To help. To give. To see, into a life that no one asks for, but some accept.

Happy New Year - I hope all is well and hopeful in this new year for you and kiddos.


Susan said...

Good point, Tricia. I guess I don't mean that listening isn't important, but that it isn't enough to turn someone's life around. The author of the book admits that she is looking to find someone like she used to be and turn her life around, and she does end up giving more than she wants to, although she obviously cares deeply for the girl she is helping. I think that my point is not that we shouldn't help (not at all!), but rather that we should be realistic about what we can do for other people. I am sure that she helped a lot of girls at that shelter just by being an example of someone who used to be there and then went on to have a successful life. But caring for someone who is having such a hard life is difficult, and people should be aware of what they are letting themselves in for when they start down that path. In this book, the author clearly did not know what she was getting into, as she made clear in the book. I thought it was very admirable that, even when it became much more draining than she expected, she found the strength to continue caring and helping. I just thought that maybe she shouldn't have been so surprised at how hard it was.

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