Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product. - Eleanor Roosevelt

At the beginning of the summer I did something I've always wanted to do and joined a book club at the local library.   So far we've read Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, Susan Wilson's One Good Dog, and a formulaic detective procedural. Bleh. I disliked them all.  For the month of August though we read The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World.  Yay!  Finally.  I'm a grump and I like bliss. 

Author Eric Weiner is a long time NPR foreign correspondent and an unhappy guy who prefers Eeyore to Winnie-the-Pooh.  Living in a country where the pursuit of happiness is fundamental causes thinking about his lack of happiness to make him even more unhappy.  Weiner (pronounced whiner)  I'm sure is a long lost relative of mine.  

The book came to be when the author found a study ranking the world's happiest places.  This gets Weiner to thinking that perhaps happiness is about the culture and where you live and not so much about who you are and what you do.  So he sets off to find out and there ensues lots of drinking, one incident of hash smoking and the consumption of rotten shark. Oh and he visits one of the world's most miserable places just for contrast.

Weiner takes his time drawing conclusions and discussing the customs and cultures of each country.  In one example Weiner tells of how in Great Britain he met with an English contact at a local pub.  Upon arriving the two talk about the weather, football and a million other things all before introducing themselves.  Seriously, it takes like an hour.  Weiner says that learning the man's name is akin to extracting info from the CIA.  Apparently in Great Britain the absolute worst thing you can be is "cloyingly American" included in which must be immediately introducing yourself upon meeting someone.   Seems it's all about the stiff upper lip, stoic demeanor and absolutely no outward show of emotion.  Sunshine and Happiness would last like a minute there.   You would think then that Great Britain would be an unhappy place but according to Weiner it's not.  He discovers that although folks are all prickly on the outside they possess an undercurrent of contentment and satisfaction way down deep.  You just can't see it.   Brits he decides are latently happy.

Wait, so am I.  Dark and Twisty on the outside, latently happy on the inside.  Kind of like a Mound's bar.  That's not so bad.  I can get with that.  Sunshine and Happiness though says it's better to be blatantly happy.  Like her.

Anyway, the seniors (average age 72) who basically ARE the book club, I'm sure hated this book.    They may be dead soon so patience is not really big on their agenda.  Favored books are sappy, quick and yes, formulaic.  Think Nicholas Sparks.  Also everyone in them should be Irish Catholic. Other ethnic Catholic is OK though not preferred.  Oh, and I almost forgot.  They don't like to think. 

Other annoyances.  This from the last group meeting:

Woman:  Hey I have a joke.
Facilitator: (groan)
Woman:  Did you hear that Buckwheat, you know from the Little Rascals, recently became a Muslim? 
Facilitator (ignores her)
Woman: Want to know what they call him?
Facilitator:  No.
Woman:  (barreling ahead anyway)  Kareem of Wheat

Culturally sensitive this group.  Wait until I come out!  Although I guess I could be accused of being the teeny tiniest littlest bit aegist.  But just a smidge.

Lest I seem too unhappy let me mention that there is one woman about my age, the only woman my age actually, who managed to endear herself to me.  When the facilitator asked for suggestions for our next book she shouted out "oh, oh, what about A Prayer for Owen Meany?" 
My. Favorite. BookEver. 
Needless to say though, if folks hated The Geography of Bliss wait until they try Owen Meany.  And he's Protestant to boot.

I may not last in this bookclub. Books I like are intelligent, use wit and a weird sense of humor, are original and finally they make me feel something inside, they have heart.  In these books small seemingly inconsequential details are woven slowly and repeatedly throughout the story, building momentum until at the end BAM.   Everything matters, every small detail has purpose, things come together and it all makes sense.  The Geography of Bliss and Owen Meany are this kind of book. They manage to make me really deep down happy. (latently of course)

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