Synopses & Reviews
What does it mean to be happy? Americans have had an obsession with “the pursuit of happiness” ever since the Founding Fathers enshrined it — along with life and liberty — as our national birthright. Whether it means the accumulation of wealth or a more vaguely understood notion of self-fulfillment or self-actualization, happiness has been an inevitable, though elusive, goal.
But it is hard to separate “real” happiness from the banal self-help version that embraces mindless positive thinking. And though we have two booming “happiness industries” — religion, with its promise of salvation, and psychopharmacology, with its promise of better living through chemistry — each comes with its own problems and complications.
In Seven Pleasures, Willard Spiegelman takes a look at the possibilities for achieving ordinary secular happiness without recourse to either religion or drugs. In this erudite and frequently hilarious book of essays, he discusses seven activities that lead naturally and easily to a sense of well-being. One of these — dancing — requires a partner, and therefore provides a lesson in civility, or good citizenship, as one of its benefits. The other six — reading, walking, looking, listening, swimming, and writing — are things one performs alone. Seven Pleasures is a marvelously engaging guide to the pursuit of happiness, and all its accompanying delights.
“Both a simple & complex pleasure, slow & swift at once, a graceful meditation. [The] impulse to share his enjoyment has resulted in Seven Pleasures, an appropriately entertaining and provocative book. Scholar, editor and teacher, Spiegelman is writing here — as a ‘loving amateur — about happiness and ‘the pleasurable things you can do to promote it and to increase a sense of general well-being, of what is called sanguinity.” Floyd Skloot, The Boston Globe
“This is a book that will not change the world but should change the people who read it. Which should cause its author rather a lot of pleasure.” Paula Marantz Cohen, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Seven Pleasures explores a range of satisfactions to be enjoyed in the everyday life — or, to put it another way, in the no man's land between religion and pharmacology, what Mr. Spiegelman calls the ‘twin pillars of the American happiness industry. Individual chapters focus on his own chief pleasures: reading, walking, looking, dancing, listening, swimming and writing. One theme of his ‘book of gerunds is that ordinariness can yield much more pleasure than is normally assumed. All the striving for happiness in our culture may cause us to overlook the riches of the familiar and near to hand....The eighth pleasure the book provides is in the intelligence and grace he brings to the job.” Wes Davis, The Wall Street Journal
“In this luminous, compelling book, Spiegelman comments on seven activities that can bring us ordinary happiness — reading, walking, looking, dancing, listening, swimming, and writing — injecting biographical elements into the universal messages he imparts. First, though, he tries to define, or at least capture the essence of, happiness. ‘Happiness,' he observes, ‘has received less respect and less serious attention than melancholy.' He notes the American propensity to see happiness as a right and contrasts it with the gloominess of the European mindset. With the exception of dancing, every activity he writes about involves solitude. In the reading chapter, he refers to his generation as ‘the last children born before the ubiquity of television; if watching TV's early, fuzzy images was unpleasant, reading was fun.' In the walking chapter, he flees Dallas, his hometown, for London, a city in which walking is normal, not a chore or something to be avoided (Dallas and much of modern America, apart from the older cities of the East and Midwest, are simply too big and, in the case of Dallas, too hot to walk in comfortably). Writing in a leisurely manner, Spiegelman takes time to make his points and, whatever activity hes engaged in at the moment, to be a thoughtful, genial companion.” Booklist (starred review)
“Some books are easy companions, and this essay collection, in which Spiegelman speaks affectionately of them, can join their ranks.” Publishers Weekly
What does it mean to be happy? Ever since the Founding Fathers invited every citizen to join the pursuit of happiness, Americans have been studying and pining for that elusive state of mind. But rather than explaining happiness, in Seven Pleasures Willard Spiegelman demonstrates it: he immerses us in the joyful, illuminating practice of seven simple pleasures — dancing, reading, walking, looking, listening, swimming, and writing — and evokes all the satisfactions they offer. Lighthearted, insightful, and deeply felt, Seven Pleasures is a portrait of pure enjoyment.
About the Author
Willard Spiegelman is the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University and has been editor of the Southwest Review since 1984. He lives in Dallas, Texas.