Saturday, April 11, 2015

J is for Joy

April A-to-Z: must-read books

14,000 things to be happy about (1990)
By Barbara Ann Kipfer
(1954-) USA

No plot, no characters, no themes, no chapters, no conflict, no dialogue, no metaphors, no climax, no rising and falling tensions, no point of view, no flashbacks, no foreshadowing. Only a single list of things… 612 pages long.

Doesn’t that sound like the pet project of a stay-at-home mom? Interestingly, Kipfer has a Ph.D. in Linguistics and works on research projects involving dictionary use in artificial intelligence.

But how does one perpetrate literary criticism upon such a thing? It’s so generic that it invites every reader’s unique interpretation (I guess that’s true of any book, strictly speaking).

Here’s my take:

Within the list there are things:
we can be grateful for,
delicious things,
pretty things,
quirky things,
comfy cozy things,
things we can be proud of,
inspiring thoughts,
little every day things,
celebratory things,
surprisingly subtle little details,
things that never occurred to you,
and things that make you say, what the—huh?

Okay, so maybe there are some themes.

This book is a must-read for any middle-class North American who is feeling like life is not what it should be; or not treating you well.

There’s a little magic as you get into the rhythm of the list. A little window opens up and lets the sunshine in, and you start to feel pretty grateful; pretty lucky, to have such a life of privilege and human magic. It reminds us to appreciate the little things.

Perhaps the great usefulness lies in reading things and having to ask, why would that make me happy? And as you figure out why, you’re reminded that we have so many reasons to be happy, and that they eclipse our reasons not to be. And these are great reminders.

Warning: if you are a foodie like me, do not read on an empty stomach or you are in for a little torture.

A passage:

  • A stream of consciousness list
  • pajamas at breakfast
  • reed-fringed lagoons
  • seeing the moon rise  
  • the feel of a rug under bare feet
  • sweet fresh corn and tender baby green lima beans drenched in cream
  • the “snuggle right in” feeling
  • a lake catching the last flecks of sunlight coming in over the pines
  • the position of your head as you bite into a taco
  • shadows cast by shutters against shiny white walls
  • a small music box that plays The Blue Danube and a tune from La Traviata
  • moderation
  • starting to make things happen
  • a baby’s first tooth…


cammies on the floor said...

I like your question: why would that make me happy. It's pursuing your own happiness and internalizing it with a much deeper connection.

IntrepidReader said...

This sounds like a fun book to read. Much more realistic than the Book of Awesome which just made me mad.