Happiness™ - Will Ferguson

Like Death Rat!, this book also satirizes the publishing industry. However, where Death Rat! employs more of the ridiculous and goofy sort of humor (and was mostly about Minnesota), Happiness™ is written in a meaner, sarcastic, almost spiteful way. Then again, for the subject matter, it's more appropriate.

The story centers on Edwin, the self-help editor for Panderic, Inc., a publishing company famous for, among other things, the Mr. Ethics line of books. (Mr. Ethics was, unfortunately, recently picked up by the IRS for tax-evasion.) Edwin stumbles upon a manuscript by the unknown Tupak Soiree entitled What I Learned on the Mountain which turns out to be the ultimate self-help book. It promises to help you quit smoking, lose weight, have better sex, get rich quick, and above all be happy. And, strangely enough, it works.

Edwin, who seems to be immune to the benefits of the book, watches in horror as the book tops the best-seller lists and becomes the only business in town. The world is transformed into a happy, nice place ... which turns out to be horrible. And so we follow Edwin in his crusade to save the world—that is, make it sad and unfulfilled again.

Ferguson makes some really good points about the driving forces of civilization and it's an interesting look at what might happen if people suddenly found themselves satisfied for a change. At the same time, he does make some basic underlying assumptions that I disagree with (for instance, the idea that the truest sense of the word "heaven" would be a place with neither crying nor laughter). What he does best is to skewer the publishing industry, with its marketing and tie-ins and the way it milks every cash cow dry (from Chicken Broth for your Aching, Needy Heart to Chicken Broth for Your Fallen Arches to A Big Ol' Heapin' Helpin' of Warmed-Up Leftovers for Your Needy Soul).

One bizarre detail is that Ferguson is Canadian, but the book is set in America (in order for the self-help movement to have the greatest effect on the world). Most of the time, you wouldn't really notice, except when you come across spellings like "paycheque," and there's this weird sort of wait, where are we again? feeling.

I enjoyed the book, particularly since I grew quite familiar with some of the terrible things that get published (and purchased) while working at Waldenbooks. It was a tad longer than it needed to be, but most of the time it held my interest. Go get yourself some Happiness™!

Fed to jonathan's brain | June 04, 2005 | Comments (0)


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