Book Review: The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner

One day, while in my favorite used book store in Wichita, I came across a paperback copy of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.

I was already interested in reading this book because I’m always interested in reading first novels. But, this wasn’t just an ordinary used book.  This one was highlighted front to back in five different colors with comments next to each. There were two names written inside the front cover, the first one crossed out. By that and the legend of highlighter colors, I am assuming this was some sort of school assignment.

I was intrigued by someone else’s assessment, especially with all the pretty highlighter colors. And with a discounted price tag of one dollar, I just couldn’t leave it on the shelf.

I won’t say I should have left it on the shelf. I actually learned a great deal about story telling from the previous reader and her markings. But I can already tell you this is bound to be my least favorite read of 2013.

And it’s not because it was poorly written or the characters weren’t developed enough. On the contrary, this is a very well-written, swift-moving story with highly developed characters.

The Kite Runner is a powerful story of betrayal and redemption (but swallow quick or you’ll choke on all the literary themes tucked in between.)

The glimpses of happiness are overpowered by the overarching themes of guilt and loss. And, although a page-turner by anyone’s standards, the almost happy ending isn’t strong enough to deliver the good feeling I was looking for at the end of such an intense life story.

Yes, the hero gets the girl. And yes, he atones for his betrayal of his best friend. And all that is good. But there was a too-little-too-late ending that simply left me sad for the hero and his family.

I know this author has written two more books since this one and maybe the story continues and brightens after all. But someone will have to fill me in because I am not likely read them myself.

Unless I happen upon them for, say … a dollar and some pretty highlighting.

A Friend’s a Friend Forever

I recently had a reunion with my best friend from middle school. After many thwarted attempts to get together, we hadn’t seen each other in twenty-four years so we had a lot of catching up to do.

And it was great.

In the span of five hours, we caught each other up on the last two decades of our individual lives. Then we promised it would not be as long before we caught up again.

Later that night I reflected on our short time together. When the afterglow of our reminiscing (thanks due, in part, to the pictures her mom sent with her of our childhood together) started to fade I found myself sad that we live so far apart (her in California and me in Kansas) and can’t share more of our lives together.

Something tells me that if we moved next door to each other we’d pick up right where we left off twenty-something years ago. Minus the loud clothes and bad hairdos.

We used to be inseparable. And when we were separated after she moved, we clung to the communication of our time – letter writing. Eventually life interrupted as it so often does in long-distance friendships and we fell out of touch for some time.

And then a new form of communication emerged – Facebook. There’s a lot to be said for this technology that made a fortune for its creators and enriched the lives of millions around the globe.

But Facebook provides merely pieces of the big-picture puzzle of our lives. And as much as I appreciate this legal form of voyeurism, it takes a physical presence to maintain most friendships. Even people in our lives that were once friends, without face-to-face time, eventually slip into past acquaintanceship.

I learned some important things about friendship this week: First, get pictures. Because you’ll never remember it all.

Second, look at the pictures from time to time. Together if you can. Remembering the moments that made you friends strengthens the bond.

And last, no relationship is effortless. It takes work to maintain friendships. You have to be intentional and take the time. Time to listen. Time to laugh. Time to love. And take new pictures.

Friendships either grow and strengthen or they don’t. It is comforting to know the good ones can withstand the test of time. Or miles. Or a lot of both.

Dusty and Heather Collage

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”
– C. S. Lewis

Book Review: The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project

I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Twice.

When I finished it the first time I wished I’d taken notes, so I immediately read it again. Not because I thought there were any new great truths I had missed but more because it was a pep talk that I needed to hear and I wasn’t listening the first time. And, since it was my copy, I underlined, commented in the margins, and made smiley faces in places that validated my own attitudes and behaviors.

I also made a list of obscure words so I could look them up – there were seventeen of them, non-repeating. It made me wonder if the author didn’t purposely overuse her thesaurus to impart a sense of higher education. Or maybe these are words she uses in every day conversation and is just showing readers how smart she is. In any case it made me feel under educated to need to look up the definition of so many words in a book about a subject as seemingly simple as happiness.

I commend the author for sticking with such a project for a year. (I’m pretty sure I’d lose interest after the first two weeks.) Although I’ll admit to not being sure how I feel about her systematic approach, I feel the plan was decisive, the research included is abundant, and I appreciated the well-written, conversational narrative.

The author bases her resolutions to happiness on a few overarching principles she calls The Twelve Commandments. The one I appreciated the most was Be Gretchen. The idea that being true to who you are can result in greater happiness seems so simple and yet so hard to achieve. Add to that commandment a few of Rubin’s Secrets of Adulthood (things like, You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you like to do and Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good) and it becomes easier to let some things go (another of the Commandments.)

Very sound advice. I am now free to not try to like running or gardening just because those seem like more legitimate practices than people-watching or reading books about happiness.

Although I don’t feel compelled to start my own Happiness Project, as the author suggests, I did organize my pantry and renewed my determination to make time for friends and pursue a passion. So, overall, I’d say this was a worthwhile read. But probably not twice.