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Susan Ito trying to do it all: reading writing mothering spousing daughtering working living

Monday, April 17, 2006

Beach Reading


I did an informal poll around the pool and beach last week, to see what other people were reading. I spotted multiple copies of the DaVinci Code, with, what, its fifth or sixth cover now? Multiple copies of A Million Little Pieces, and many copies of Reader's Digest. Oh boy! And a regular assortment of what I call "airport books" - mystery and thriller stuff. I was chagrined to find not one literary novel.

My idea of beach reading is something that I can really sink my teeth, or my brain, into, while my body is totally slothing about. I can't zone out both physically and mentally. And when I'm home, overwhelmed with the multiple jobs of teaching, working, organizing, momming and daughtering, it just seems a bit much to pick up a book like this just when I need some rest. So when my husband offered me up his copy of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs & Steel at the beach, I picked it up. It weighs about as much as a roast chicken. It's a heavy book, and it's also a heavy book, if you know what I mean. The basic premise is an attempt to answer the question, "Why do some (few) people in the world have all the goodies, and most of the people have almost nothing?"

The answers are pretty breathtaking, especially given the context of reading the book while at a resort populated with about 95% European Americans, while being waited on hand and foot by about 99% people of Mayan descent. It's right there. One day I was sitting on our lovely balcony, looking out at the pretty turquoise sea, and I saw this man working in the adjacent dried out, hurricane-ravaged, endless looking jungle. I knew it was absolutely sweltering out there. I couldn't even bear to sit in the sun on a lounge chair, let alone hacking away at gnarly brances with a machete. And yet there he was, and there was I.

Why? How did this all happen? Jared Diamond takes it back to prehistoric times, to the early humans, some of whom had the good luck to figure out stone tools and then progress to things like metal tools and writing. Some of them had the tough, survival-driven life of hunter-gatherers, based on what kinds of vegetation and animals they lived near, and others had the relative luxury of becoming farmers. For so many millions of people, it came down to the luck of being born in a good place or a hard place. And so it continues.

And I'm still wracking my little pea brain trying to figure out how to help, or how not to hurt. I'm trying to do good work.

This was the first vacation I've ever taken like this, the fancy kind. The kind I'm more used to, and the kind I feel more comfortable with, is camping, or taking a bunch of middle schoolers to Guatemala to learn Spanish and do community service, or taking a bunch of health care workers to Nicaragua to share their experiences and learn a bunch themselves, or wandering around Nepal or Burma and really talking to people. Reaching out a little bit. Or else just going and hanging out with friends and family in the places where they live.

Maybe I read Guns, Germs and Steel at the beach because I just couldn't stand being that comfortable in a place like that. And I wasn't.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Wendy said...

Susan I so relate to this almost all of it. First, the book I'm trying to write with Linda is ALL about this class thing, in South Africa but same as Mexico or Palestine or Nicaragua etc.

Second, I do go to fancier hotels than you do, my weakness but I always but always check what everyone is reading even if I have to lean over and ask. At the CAsa Del Mar in Santa Monica, I kid not, Everyone was reading Austerlitz a book too hard for me. In other places, like in Maui, also there are highly literate types. But I also go to places where I feel so astounded at the crap being read.

You write your blog so well, and so I'm giving a tiny answer to you. I'm suddenly exhausted from writing around the clock for weeks and DO CAN do anymore, not tonight, maybe not this week.

O, off subject: 1) my Nana, my closest grandmother on my mother's side was an orphan and was about 17 during the 1906 earthquake about which she remembered EVERYTHING, which I had taped her. And second, DNA testing for another time as it doesn't belong here. xxoo Wendy

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 7:14:00 PM

 
Blogger melanie said...

I totally agree with you, being that my first "vacation" ever was going to the Philippines to visit family, and realizing my parents grew up in poverty I would never know. When we went to Guatemala, it reminded me so much of Manila.

On a lighter note, "weighs about as much as a roast chicken" made me laugh out loud. Hope the book gave you some mental protein for your beach reading. I've been wanting to read Guns, Germs and Steel; I'll bump it up on my "To Read" queue.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 7:29:00 PM

 
Blogger Patry Francis said...

Very thought provoking. I've read excerpts from Diamond's book, but you've
persuaded me I need to read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 9:25:00 PM

 
Blogger Bustopher Jones said...

I've had that book on my shelf for five years now, but I honestly don't think I'll get to it anytime soon. I look forward to it, though, in the future. I love that photo.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 10:18:00 PM

 
Blogger Alice in Austria said...

hehe, I had to read this book in graduate school (I still have it sitting on my shelf) - I rather liked it. Now I feel like re-reading it, in fact ;)

Susan, I emailed you and am wondering whether you got it (or whether it might've landed in your spam?) Please let me know. Thank you! ;)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 11:56:00 PM

 
Blogger expatmama said...

Hmm, another book for the list! Have you read Amy Tan's latest? There was an interview with her about it in the newspaper here a few weeks ago, and it sounds like there are some similar themes in it. I do so miss having access to decent libraries (with real English books!) and browseable bookstores and the like...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006 12:45:00 AM

 
Blogger Susan said...

No, I haven't read Amy Tan's latest - I will check it out.

And I admit that this is a hard book to read without a long stretch of time. I loved diving into it, really immersing, but I had the very rare occasion of having MANY empty hours to fill.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006 9:57:00 AM

 
Blogger Tom said...

I like Jared Diamond. Last fall I read "The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal" and regaled my office mates on the correlation of the testes in male primates and their reproductive strategies. (Gorillas, having small equipment, have harems and infrequently engage in sex; chimps, being the champs in this department, are wildly promiscuous.)

Sunday, April 23, 2006 5:22:00 AM

 

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