By Dan Bjork
How to Be Happy (proper) is preceded by an author’s note that instantly endeared me to the book: “This is not actually a book about how to be happy, however, and if you’re struggling, the following have been helpful for me.” After which, Eleanor Davis lists three books that can be a parachute, if you took the title of her book at face value and are indeed in search of one. In other words, what follows will not provide any single-entendre help. Don’t come here if what you need is a parachute. However, if what you do need is a parachute, here a few that have worked for me.
Which makes this as good a place as any to get into what I got out of the FBC this season: The beginning of a framework with which to talk about mental illness. The sort of ethereal marjoram I’ve thought around, more than about — the sort of stuff I’d never tried to digest in a way that would make any sort of communication about such possible. (And for me, being able to talk about mental illness goes hand in hand with building an understanding of it, of continually approaching a better understanding; I’m having a hard time describing a lifetime of [hopefully] increasing and multi-faceted understand, a process that is never and cannot possibly be complete, without using a word like ‘asymptotic,’ which I just now did anyway.)
By Ryan Joe
I have a confession.
I have been watching NFL football since the playoffs. That, as well as other writing projects, have kept me from updating with any degree of regularity. If you weren’t watching, the playoffs were immensely entertaining, filled with on-field heroism (Larry Fitzgerald, Aaron Rodgers), villainy (Vontaze Burfect, Adam Jones), and incompetence (Brian Hoyer, the Bengals).
It’s what makes the NFL so successful. Keep people entertained, and they’ll forget your bullshit.
By Rob Casper
So the season is over for our collective teams. I was walking home last week when I spotted the Cardinals-Packers playoff game on in our local bar. Standing outside in the cold, I followed the waning seconds of regulation but decided to give up right before the last play — I said to my wife, “This is boring,” after waiting through a couple of timeouts. Which was premature, considering the 41-yard touchdown Aaron Rodgers threw. Had I seen that, I would’ve rushed home only to catch the Packers lose in overtime. (I certainly did follow the post-game scandal about NFL overtime rules, which cost the Pack in consecutive playoff losses.)
So what’s the moral? I don’t know. Because of Football Book Club, I’ve probably paid more attention to the NFL — certainly I’m more aware of how difficult it is to avoid. I can’t wait until the off-season, so that while walking past bars or in the airport or at the gym I’ll catch snippets of basketball games instead.
I also ran out of steam with our reading list, before I made it through our “regular season.” I can say this, though: How to Be Happy made me want to extend my poem analogy of my last post on Here. If the latter worked like a poem, the former reminded me of prose poems — snippets of narrative powered by strange and surprising leaps. For instance, here is “The Emotion Room:”
This week, Football Book Club is reading Don DeLillo’s End Zone and Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru’s League of Denial. And we’ll be posting about The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra, along with anything else we feel like throwing in there because football season is just about over and we are all in great moods because the Patriots didn’t make the Super Bowl.
This week, Football Book Club is reading The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra. And we’re posting about The Dirty Dust by Máirtín Ó Cadhain — and How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis and River House by Sally Keith and who knows what else because it’s the playoffs, most of our teams are done for the year, and anything goes.
Zambra was named one of Granta‘s “Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists” and The Private Lives of Trees, translated by Megan McDowell, was called “poignant and thought-provoking” byThe Midwest Book Review.
Dan nominated this title for Football Book Club because: “it centers on the story a man tells his stepdaughter before bed — improvising a new chapter every evening — and I’ve always been interested in characters who are storytellers. Especially when it feels this natural.”
By Adam Boretz
Because of a high fever, ear infection, and generally delicate constitution — my doctor once told me I have the stored protein levels of “a frail elderly woman” — I ended up reading Eleanor Davis’s How to Be Happy twice.
Me: Not Yet. But Dion. I have an ear infection because I am seven years old.
Ryan: Shit man. Feel Better! I liked How to Be Happy quite a bit.
Me: I’m halfway through. Not bad. Colorful.
Then I fell asleep. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember anything I read — How to Be Happy was completely erased from my memory. I also have no idea who Dion is.
The second reading — sans fever and mostly sans ear infection — showed me that my initial reaction to the book — “Not bad. Colorful.” — was a massive understatement. And while I read the book a few weeks ago, I find myself still thinking about many of the stories in How to Be Happy.
The pieces that really resonated with me were Davis’s tales of empty, confused people searching — for emotion (“No Tears, No Sorrow”), for love (“Darling, I’ve Realized I don’t Love You”), and for meaning in everything from meditation and children to gluten-free bread:
The Case against Satan is ostensibly about an exorcism. The haunting cover would seem to suggest the book is concerned with the woman who does (or does not) need to be exorcised. It is concerned with her, as far as how she arrived at her current state, sort of. It cares about saving her, for sure. But in the simple terms of page-space allotted, the book is concerned with this woman’s suffering almost solely as a call to action for important men to set about solving a problem. That, and to allow important men to have abstract, mostly theological debates — to the point that they take a break from the exorcism, during which the woman is bound to the bed, thrashing and bleeding – to have the following exchange:
The Bishop gently set his cup upon its saucer.
‘Touché, Gregory,’ he said. ‘You win this round.’
In terms of what will happen to these characters (people) in the future, the bishop (our figure of authority) is far more concerned with Father Gregory’s drinking problem than with what will happen to this woman when they are through with her. I’d go as far as to say the book wouldn’t be all that different if it were about about a plague of locusts, especially if the priest and the bishop involved were capable of investing some purely corporeal cause for this. Except it is about a young woman who was almost certainly raped, and has come to them for help.
This week, Football Book Club is reading The Dirty Dust by Máirtín Ó Cadhain — and getting caught up after the holidays with posts about everything from How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis to River House by Sally Keith.
The Dirty Dust — all the characters of which are dead in their graves — has finally been translated into English thanks to the efforts of Alan Titley, and was called one of “best books to come out of Ireland in the 20th century” by The Independent.
Adam nominated this title for Football Book Club because: “I read this piece at The Millions — which contains this amazing line: ‘What if what awaits us after death is a continuation of the same petty dramas and sordid resentments? What if, after we’re lowered into our graves, we discover that all the other corpses in the cemetery are still chattering away in some kind of eternal bitchfest?’ — and was so excited I immediately ordered a copy of the book.”
How to be Happy is Davis’s first collection of graphic/literary short stories, was named one of NPR’s and Publishers Weekly‘s Best Books of 2014, and was shortlisted for Slate‘s 2014 Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Print Comic of the Year.
Rob nominated this title for Football Book Club because “As the darkest time of the year approaches, who wouldn’t want to read a book called How to Be Happy? And yet this collection of graphic short stories is no smile-fest. My wife recommended it to me on the basis of its range of styles and its playful power.
By Adam Boretz
I was hoping Ryan Joe would deliver the goods in his response to Richard McGuire’s Here — and his post did just that. For me, this was actually a second reading of Here. The first time around — months ago, when I got my hands on a galley — I really liked the book for all the reasons people should (and do) like the book: the spare art; the innovative storytelling; that sense of all we are missing in a single life, which Rob ably pointed out in his post.
My second reading was a very different one due to the death of grandmother. In the months since her passing — which came two years after the death of her husband — our family has done the things that I suppose all families must do. The most recent of which was preparing her home of 60 years for sale. My grandmother’s house was (due to a variety of reasons we won’t get into here) very much my childhood home — the place I grew up; the setting of almost all of my fond early memories; one of my very favorite places.
Thankfully, I have been entirely removed from the process of donating clothes and cookware, selling furniture and valuables, hauling out the detritus of a family’s life. But, I am told by my parents that — save a distant 20-something cousin who is now “tending to the house” by sleeping on a mattress on the floor and “not cleaning the bathroom very well” — my grandmother’s home is now empty: all the possessions and photos and furniture accumulated over six decades have been removed.