Fascinating book overcomes deep-seated reading quirks.
As regular readers of My Porch will know, in the pantheon of quirks related to my reading habits perhaps none is more stubbornly ingrained in my psyche than my inability to embrace (or even read) books handed to me by others. Don’t get me wrong, I have read many, many, wonderful books recommended by friends and bloggers. But there is something about the act of someone actually handing me a book, and the expectations that go along with that act, that makes it hard for me to want to read the book. This knee-jerk aversion is almost entirely a function of deep seated control issues that makes “no” my initial response to almost everything. Thankfully I have worked hard on getting over that and even if I say “no” right off the bat, I will often quickly change course to “maybe” or even “yes”.
Back in May we were visiting friends in Sonoma, California
when we got to talking about books. One of our friends handed me In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
and said that he thought I would enjoy it. Working against my natural inclinations, and trusting this friend’s judgment, I cheerfully accepted the book and was intrigued with its premise. But then I get back to DC, the book gets added to my nightstand TBR* pile, and the reality of “no” starts to hover over the book. Not only is it languishing unread because of my control issues, but it is a collection of linked short stories. Normally, short stories are not my cup of tea, but last year I read a number of great collections that had me rethinking my dislike of the form. And there was still one other hurdle to overcome. The stories are set in Pakistan. Nothing against Pakistan, but my reading tastes tend to focus on North America, the UK, and parts of Europe. Xenophobic as it may be, I am just disinclined to go beyond that geographically and culturally narrow (but richly populated) band of reading material.
So, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
sat and sat until the TBR Dare
prodded me to look at it in a new light and with some enthusiasm. Granted, I was thinking I would just read it to finally get it off of my plate, but at least I was going to read it. Imagine my surprise when I ended up liking it.
Each of the linked stories are wholly compelling. As I often discover when I read outside my comfort zone, I was fascinated by the contrast between the action and setting of the stories and my own comfortable life. Interwoven around a modern day feudal landowner, his family, his employees, and his servants, the stories run the gambit from the halls of wealth and power to the basest of living conditions. What was most surprising to me was the corrupt, wild west kind of mentality that pervades most of the stories. Either as background, or as a major component of the plot, and in every socio-economic strata, corruption is everywhere. And for so many of the characters, rich and poor, the corruption is both the reason for their situation as well as the avenue for escaping poverty or maintaining wealth. Some of it is garden variety greasing the wheels of justice and business with bribes, but in other cases it is violent and desperate. And as with women all over the world, the women in the stories are the ones most often at the biggest disadvantage, many resorting to sexual favors for survival. (Now that I reflect on it, I am struck by how well Mueenuddin writes about the plight of women.)
As gloomy as some of the scenarios can be, they are not without beauty and humor. And Mueenuddin paints a vivid picture of life in Pakistan. One can almost feel the heat and smell the food. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders was a National Book Award finalist and it is easy to see why. I am glad I overcame my natural disinclination to read this book. Had I not, I would have missed out on a fascinating world and a well written book. And it will make me less resistant the next time someone hands me a book. (But don’t do it until after April 1st when the TBR Dare ends.)
*TBR = to be read