People Like Me

I finally finished the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. Whew! It really got tedious, all the shopping and designer clothes and idiomatic terms that were translated in footnotes.

The most bizarre thing about the books is that I would have thought they’d be used as examples of how not to write, but apparently, if a book makes money, no one cares about the lack of a plot, the lack of clearly defined major characters, the lack of any sort of character arc, the insertion of too many characters that have no point except to pound home the point that the rich, no matter the nationality, are different.

One of the many things I didn’t understand were those footnotes. Though the story was written in English, these people were not actually speaking English in their own homes among their own families, yet the author kept inserting Asian terms in the midst of what should have been Asian people talking in one of the many Asian languages. I didn’t understand why he didn’t just translate those terms as he did the rest of their dialogue and forget the footnotes. Admittedly, there were times they spoke English, and I suppose they would bestrew their English sentences with Asian terms, but I don’t feel like giving the author the benefit of the doubt, especially since he kept inserting himself in the footnotes. I had to look at the footnotes to see what the heck the characters were talking about, which was bad enough, but it was especially jarring to have all that author intervention. Anyone who knows about writing knows that the author should be invisible. A story is a conversation between the reader and the characters, and no author should ever poke his head into the conversation. It disrupts the fictive dream and takes the reader out of the story.

In this case, I don’t suppose it really mattered since there was no real story. Just a lot of rich people doing rich people things.

Luckily, I’m finished with that particular literary non-event and will go on to a completely different book, this one about a middle-aged, middle-class woman in the sandwich generation — caught between raising young children and taking care of aging parents. I’m not sure I’ll be any more into this story than I was into the rich folk saga — both are alien situations that I can’t really identify with. But then, if I only read books about people like me (assuming, of course, there are any books about people like me), there’d be no reason to read because I know about people like me.

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Crazy Rich

An Asian friend lent me her copy of Crazy Rich Asians. She really enjoyed the book, not just for the story and the humor, but because she knew many of the places in the book and had eaten much of the food, so it was personal for her.

I was looking forward to reading the book, but when I started, I realized I’d read it before. Admittedly, I don’t remember the titles of a lot of books I’ve read, so it’s not uncommon for me to get books I’ve already read, but I would have thought I’d have remembered the title. It’s certainly unique enough. But, no.

The first part of the book reminded me of the old regency romances, with all the gossip, the over-the-top wealth, the drive for titled or entitled parents to make suitable matches for their children, but as the book progressed, I felt suffocated by all the money, the shopping, the emphasis on trivialities, the snobbery. More than that, I could not empathize with any of the characters. Who needs that sort of wealth? Not me, that’s for sure. Not only don’t I need it, I wouldn’t want it.

The real riches (the material ones rather than the emotional or spiritual ones) are simple. A place to live with plumbing, heating and electricity. More than adequate food. Clothes to keep one covered and warm and feeling good about oneself. A car to get around. Books to read. Feet and shoes that allow one to walk and connect with the world on a fundamental basis. A computer to connect with the world on a broader basis.

I’m sure there are a few other items to add to that list, but truly, these are the riches. Does it matter if one lives in a 1,000-square-foot house or a 10,000-square-foot house? No matter how big the house, you can only be in one room at a time. The same goes for clothes. No matter how many (or how few) you have, you can only wear so many garments at one time. You can only drive one car at a time, eat only so much food. Whether the car or food or clothes are hideously expensive or cheap hand-me-downs, they serve the same function.

Not only do I have all the things one needs to be rich — at least rich compared to the past when there was no plumbing, no heating, no cars, no closet full of clothes — I feel rich.

When friends and I would talk about such things as winning the lottery, I’d mention that all I really wanted was enough money so I didn’t have to worry about money. It finally dawned on me that if that was the only reason to get richer, there was a simple solution: stop worrying about money.

So I did.

Not worrying doesn’t change the possibility of an impoverished old age, though it does keep me focused on what is important — working while I can, taking care of myself, learning to accept the vicissitudes of life. It also means stocking up on a few things when I can, for example, during my recent — and rare — visit to a big city with all the major stores, I bought some shoes, though I don’t need them quite yet.

I also think not worrying about my finances (or at least trying to not worry) helps to create an attitude of gratitude, which is important to one’s well-being, and adds to the feeling of being rich.

It’s just as well that I’m okay at not being crazy rich, very rich, or even just simply rich because it will never happen. And that, too makes me rich because from what I have read in this book about insanely rich people (Asian or not) is that being rich is hard work.

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Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.