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Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness Hardcover – April 28, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Some books are easy companions, and this essay collection, in which Spiegelman speaks affectionately of them, can join their ranks. His top seven picks for happiness are reading, walking, looking, dancing, listening, swimming and writing—activities that are free and accessible to anyone with a library card and a pair of comfortable shoes. As old-fashioned, and occasionally charming, as a Lawrence Welk waltz, Spiegelman proclaims his suspicion of new technology that might replace the book and regrets dancing that doesn't involve a partner and a prescribed step. To today's sufferers, melancholics, and ordinary neurotics, can we safely say, 'Throw out your Prozac, pick up your Wordsworth?' The advice would revolutionize the health industry. Spiegelman, editor of the Southwest Review and professor of English at Southern Methodist University, is no self-help guru, but he is an intelligent, well-read and kindly soul. Back in the good old days, he found a set of activities that made him happy, and knows he's not the first to write on these subjects. But can a happiness-obsessed society accept that the simple act of looking at one painting all afternoon can make all the difference? (May)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* 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 he’s engaged in at the moment, to be a thoughtful, genial companion. --June Sawyers

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1St Edition edition (April 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374239304
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374239305
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,322,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If there was a "Society for Frustrated English Majors & Other Liberal Arts Graduates" --folks who feel that college educations and subsequent daily existences rarely mesh in meaningful ways--then Willard Spiegelman could be the group's guru and his book, Seven Pleasures, Essays on Ordinary Happiness, its holy writ.

This book is not a self-help program that will ever be summarized with bullets in the glossy Sunday supplement. Instead, the delicious volume is a demonstration of how the wisdom of the "liberal arts" (especially my favorite, poetry) can permeate simple activities and heighten awareness of their pleasures.

While discussing each of seven activities, he uses examples from literature, music, visual arts, his travels, and his life experiences from childhood forward. This book offers hope to poetry lovers who lament the demise of poetry as a popular genre. Poems are used repeatedly and effectively to inform and illustrate aspects of ordinary, contemporary life, demonstrating a vital didactic role for poetry. In discussing John Stuart Mills' description of his recovery from mental collapse through Wordsworth's poetry, Spiegelman states that Mills "blurs the line between literary criticism, memoir, and psychotherapy." This description applies equally well to Seven Pleasures.

Of the seven activities discussed, Spiegelman's "bookends," "Reading" and "Writing," are essential pleasures. Without some proficiency in these, one will not develop the awareness or poetic sensibility that enhances the pleasure of any chosen ordinary activity. In these two key essays, Spiegelman is not shy about direct advice.
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Format: Hardcover
Fun reading, but I'll start with the small negatives. Willard Spiegelman's essays recount a serendipitous life experience and only hint at challenges and crisis (or even tragedy)I'm sure he faced along the way. He reveals only small islands of discomfort and pain scattered in a vast sea of joyful possibilities derived from pursuit and contemplation of simple pleasures. But his mission appears to be: blend light memories with practical advice on realizing happiness, but with effort that threatens no one else. He places the seven pleasures in the context of a cornucopia of references to mostly literary and artistic notables, both the famous and less so famous. Spiegelman's blend reeks of spontaneity (notwithstanding that he seems to know nearly all there is to know about every nook of Western culture), and the alluding method employed never approaches pedantry. More imitative is he of Ovid and Vergil than the modern popularized philosophers of the possible. Some images are especially funny, one for instance: Spiegelman swimming laps in the Harvard pool and realizing he has the 8 foot giant and world-famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith in the lane on his left, and word-famous psychologist Erik Erikson on his right, and in the middle ". . I the world-ignored nobody." This book has much serious and useful advice, but in small palatable doses and with lots of light and self-deprecating revelations about the very talented author, who has learned how to structure prose with no waste and in a relentless striving to enrich and inspire the reader, mind and body.
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Format: Hardcover
This a delicious collection of occasional essays on secular spirituality--how to make the most of one's life in a world full of beauty and art, even though almost certainly devoid of divine purpose. It contains the reflections of a professor of literature who learned his craft before the profession was commandeered by what he calls "highfalutin" literary theory, when one could read a poem without feeling obliged to explore the ways in which the poem's language abused women and other afflicted constituencies. And its advice is simple and direct: Get yourself a set of gerunds (walking, dancing, swimming...) and cultivate them in tranquility.

Spiegelman and I have never met, but we share much in common. We spent our high school years in Philadelphia in the 50s, hanging out at the Free Library on Logan Square and Leary's Books (although I especially liked the Arcade Paperback Book Gallery), listening to Jean Shepherd and Phillies on the radio, and memorizing "The Windhover."Later we both earned advanced degrees in literature, swam naked in Ivy League gyms, wrote books that almost no one has read, played a bit of chamber music, wrote a poem or two... Unlike most people, we loved school and we remember what we read and learned.

Spiegelman is a gentle soul. His nastiest wisecrack is aimed at Dancing with the Stars. One might say that the book (or the man) is too comfortable, except that is its point: in the absence of urgent problems or threats, the sane way to live is to find activities--some solitary, some requiring a companion--that engage you, comfort you, and please you. Activities that challenge you without much stress (except for the temporary embarrassment of being a novice learner).
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