Tuesday, September 23, 2008

REVIEW: Happiness™

Title: Happiness™
Author: Will Ferguson
ISBN: 1841952338/Canongate Books, Ltd.
Protagonist: Edwin de Valu, low-level editor for Panderic Press
Setting: present-day, an unnamed city that's the publishing center of the US
Rating: A-

First Line: Grand Avenue cuts through the very heart of the city, from 71st Street all the way to the harbourfront, and although it is eight lanes wide, with a treed boulevarde running down the middle, the Avenue feels claustrophobic and narrow.

Edwin de Valu, a low-level editor for Panderic Press, is usually stuck editing the self help books for the publishing house's catalog. He's also responsible for slogging through his fair share of the slush pile--all the unsolicited manuscripts that come to Panderic daily. Just before a meeting with the chief editor, Edwin takes a look at a gargantuan thousand-page typewritten manuscript. Not finding a self-addressed, stamped envelope in which to put the form letter turndown, he simply dumps the manuscript in the trash. At the meeting, he's told that the very foundation stone of their self-help catalogue, "Mr. Ethics" himself, has been arrested for income tax evasion (and for burying IRS agents in his backyard). Edwin is given the task of finding a self-help book to replace Mr. E's, and the only thing he can come up with is the monster he threw in the wastebasket. After all, there may be a way he can prune it down to 300 pages. He has no idea what he's about to unleash upon the country.

Canadian Will Ferguson credits a book publicist with the idea for his first novel. The publicist said, "I'll tell you one thing. If anyone ever wrote a self-help book that actually worked, we'd all be in trouble." I have to admit that I read the entire book with one particular friend in mind: one who openly expresses a loathing for self-help books. (They're not favorites of mine either.) By page 27, I knew I was hooked: Panderic publishes the "Chicken Broth" series of books, and book #217 is titled Chicken Broth for Your Fallen Arches. The chief editor of Panderic gathers awed looks and hushed whispers: he spent six years as a fact-checker for Tom Clancy.

Ferguson's thoughts on how a country could collapse if given a self-help book that actually works are funny and also very thought-provoking when carried through to the idea of what happiness really means. Although it bogged down a bit after the book was published and became a runaway success, I still found it a hilarious satire on the world of publishing and the human condition. A big Thank You to Jena for mentioning this book on her blog!


  1. This sounds like something I would really enjoy, thanks for the great review :)

  2. You're welcome! I hope you enjoy it, too. Which reminds me...I learned of the book on another blog. I'd better go make a link!

  3. I always think self-help book is more of a memoir full of nuts-and-bolts that only work for the person who wrote it. Never even bother with that section at the bookstore.

    This book sounds very intriguing. I'll have to go check it out. Thanks for the heads up! :)

  4. You're welcome, Matt--I hope you enjoy it!

    There have been only two times that I've frequented the self-help aisle, and both times I thought the books were in the wrong section of the bookstore! LOL It's been years since that happened though.


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