A few years ago I read a newspaper story about a senior accountant who started giving away all his money because it was the right and rational thing to do. They quoted his wife saying, “It wasn’t the first $2 million that was hard to give up, it was the last $90,000, when we had to move to a smaller house and could no longer afford the kinds of restaurants our friends liked.” Then the accountant heard about a stranger who needed a kidney, so he donated his kidney too.
Taking this reasoning to its end point, the altruistic accountant should work overtime and never retire. Every day he works could build a house for a displaced family in Darfur! And if you weigh each buying decision against what that money would otherwise be able to do, you wouldn’t ever buy a potted plant because that $10 could feed a Cambodian family for a month. Life becomes unlivable!
Anyway, maybe Nick Hornby read the same story, because this book is about the smart and liberal Katie (a doctor for the National Health Service) and her sarcastic husband David (writes a column called “The Angriest Man in Holloway”). Their marriage is falling apart, and one day David passive-aggressively visits a druggie spiritual healer named DJ GoodNews and gets healed. The new David starts really thinking about what it means to be a liberal. He starts giving away money and campaigning for everyone in their neighborhood to take in a street kid. Their family was falling apart before, but now they’re in the fast lane to destruction.
In Hornby’s hands, How to Be Good is enormous fun with plenty of surprise twists. Like the king’s fool, How to Be Good uses humor as a license to ask thorny questions, and it makes the if-I-had-a-book-club list. We’d all like to be “good” but actually following through with a whole effort just about tears life apart.
Is David crazy even to try? What are some of the things he’s doing wrong? What’s he doing right?