Literature has been called a handbook for the art of being human.
I know what you're thinking...do I really want to read a book about people living on a trash heap in Cambodia?? You do. I'll admit that when Tracy sent me The Rent Collector, my first thought was it would be one I'd have to gear up for before reading. It just looked depressing. And the nice little review on the cover touting it as a story about the perseverance of the human spirit did nothing to assuage my fears. More often than not, that is code for "it will take perseverance to finish this novel."
Now I'm not one to shy away from a good depressing read, but I do have to be in the mood. (Which begs the question: what kind of mood does one need to be in before beginning a depressing novel? Already in the depths and wanting to wallow there? Happy and feeling the need to curb that enthusiasm?) Tracy was no help in the matter as she hadn't read it yet...so I did something I don't usually do: I dove right in, throwing care to the wind, not reading a single review. I'm so glad I did. How glad? It's been the birthday gift of choice ever since—and you should know Tracy and I take book giving very seriously.
There are so many things I love about this book. Mostly, the characters. Ah...Sopeap. You had me at, "if every story ended with a handsome prince, there wouldn't be anybody left in the kingdom to stand around and cheer." And Lucky Fat, who more often than not, displays "more animation than any human being living in a dump should." My love only waxes stronger as the narrative illustrates literacy's ability to change lives, champions the need to read fiction because we each find our own stories in the pages of made-up stories (cue my standing ovation), and perhaps most of all, the author's tremendous restraint in resisting the urge to make everything better by changing the characters' circumstances. Then comes a beautiful section where we witness the magical lure of stories read aloud and I'm sold: hook, line, and sinker.
Enough from me. I'll end with one of the many passages I have marked, although it pains me to only include one:
Literature is a cake with many toys baked inside—and even if you find them all, if you don't enjoy the path that leads you to them, it will be a hollow accomplishment. There was a playwright named Heller, American, I believe, who summed it up this way. He said, "They knew everything about literature except how to enjoy it."
Heller just summed up many of the overachievers in my college English Lit classes.
Posted by Rachel