A Brief Unhappy Book Review of A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen

“A Short Guide to a Happy Life…” If you look at that title, you’re bound to think it’s likely overstated or pretentious, and yet, the title A Short Guide to a Happy Life isn’t entirely misleading. It is short. The entire book is 64 pages long, and those pages are compacted into a pocket size. Is it a guide though? No. The only place it will guide you is to the returns counter at your local book store. Is it describing a happy life? No. If anything, it’s describing her happy life. Well, at least it’s short.

If it’s not a guide and not about a happy life, then what is A Short Guide to a Happy Life? In my opinion, the whole thing was a mass of cliches strung together with some eloquence. The wisdom offered is often so banal you’ll wonder why it was published at all. Of course, there’s the Bible quote “Consider the lilies…” included, and there’s the common advice “life is about the journey, not the destination…” How many times have these ideas been spoken before? Don’t we already know these things? What good is this book?

Why the hostility, you may be asking. Most people don’t read self-help books purely for fun, and if life is wonderful, they go unread entirely. By that, I mean that people only turn to such books when suffering under depression or some other misfortune. People with serious problems who turn to A Short Guide to a Happy Life will very likely find nothing in it of real use. They might find it to be a pleasant reading experience, but an hour or two they will return to their situation unchanged.

I have read several much better books in the genre of self-help. Books by qualified people: neuroscientists, seasoned therapists, biologists… In better books, practical advice will be given, such as how to form exercise habits that will benefit the mind, or how to regulate eating, or why and when to consult an actual professional. There’s no such advice in Anna Quindlen’s little book. Instead, it ends with a deeply upsetting cliche. As if to remind us how good life is, she uses the cliche image of a homeless man sitting on a bench, staring into the sunset, saying how he never tires of the beauty of life, even when he does not have a dime to his name.

It’s been remarked before that Picasso’s early paintings of struggling peasants appealed more to the bourgeoise art culture than to their target audience, and Anna Quindlen’s view of the homeless is much the same as Picasso’s patrons. It’s as if she’s saying “We should all be more like this homeless gentleman who enjoys life no matter what…” Of course, we shouldn’t be homeless at the same time.

If there’s anyone not at risk of homelessness, it’s Anna Quindlen. A Short Guide to a Happy Life, a 64 page book, is sold at the price of $12.95. If you think about it, that means the customer who buys it will have $12.95 less to buy better, more informative books on the matter. It also means the homeless man most likely won’t be able to afford to read about himself here without giving up a few more necessary items.

—–I have written a fiction novel titled A Rapturous Occasion available on Amazon in paperback and as an ebook. The ebook is just $0.99!Image

If you have read A Short Guide to A Happy Life by Anna Quindlen, what was your opinion?


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