Reading Rights

Magdalena Waz

In a strange turn of events, WLFM received a book instead of a CD in the mail. Whomever was opening packages that day dutifully marked down the date we received it and set it out in our common area for anyone to peruse. Even though it is technically against our rules, I borrowed the book.
A travel memoir by a man named Conor Grennan, “Little Princes” provides an engrossing account of Grennan’s time spent volunteering in Nepal – first at one children’s home and a year later starting his own organization for trafficked children.
What struck me most about the book, though, were the first 30 pages, in which Grennan exposes his true motivations for wanting to volunteer. He had wanted to travel around the world, spending his savings before starting a new job and settling down. The bargain he made – one that would make him look less selfish to others – was that he would volunteer for three months and have the other nine to himself.
Unfortunately, there’s no good way to say this without sounding like an awful person. I spent some time shaking my head at the page, wondering how Grennan could, after having spent so much time with children who lived in an orphanage, later put up with his annoying friend Charlie who simply wanted to get drunk and meet women. I couldn’t help but feel that some of these same thoughts were making their way into the narrative unannounced, veiled thinly by a glossed-over narrative of nine months spent backpacking.
Of course, if the three months of volunteering had been the end of Grennan’s stay in Nepal, he wouldn’t have had much of a book. He returned to that same children’s home only to find that child trafficking had not stopped and that he had come face to face with newly displaced children. I had to ask myself whether or not I would have returned – or even volunteered in the first place – and the answer is probably no to both questions.
Last week, I wrote about how selfish we are because we refuse to read the writing our peers and contemporaries prepare for us and because we do favors for people when expecting things in return. As far as I can tell, Conor Grennan received nothing for spending years in Nepal trying to reunite children with their families. His work is satisfying to him. People who read his story will remember it even if they forget his name.
But as a tale meant to inspire us to give years of our lives to something we believe in, “Little Princes” hopes to draw that connection between selfless actions and good personal outcomes. Because Grennan’s organization received attention from newspapers in the United States, the woman who would later become his wife contacted him. We are taught that good things happen to good people, which is, of course, one of the reasons we should go out to change the world.
It is at times a conflicting message; we should do good but try to find the good in it for ourselves. All in all, that’s not such a bad way to live.