Will Ferguson is a Canadian writer who is well known for his humorous travel writing and observations about Canadian culture. Some of his best known books include How to Be A Canadian, Beauty Tips From Moosejaw, and 419. In 2012, he won the Scotiabank Giller Prize with his novel 419, which is anything but humorous. Because I don’t often read funny books or travel books, 419 was the first book I read by Ferguson. I was impressed with it, as it opened my eyes to the world of scamming, and the visions of oil-slicked Niger Delta still torment me. There were some disturbing scenes in that book. That just made me more curious to check out his funny stuff.
I am currently reading Canadian Pie as a tertiary book (because it can easily be read that way), and I have just finished reading Happiness, a novel formerly known as Generica. Happiness won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour in 2002.
Happiness tells the story of a self-help book that causes the end of the world (as we know it). In the Caveat Emptor, Ferguson describes his book:
This book is about the end of the world, and as such, it involves diet cookbooks, self-help gurus, sewer-crawling convicts, overworked editors, the economic collapse of the United States of America and the widespread tilling of alfalfa fields. And I think one of the characters loses a finger at some point, too. This is the story of apocalypse: Apocalypse Nice. It tells of a devastating plague of human happiness, an epidemic of warm fuzzy hugs, and a mysterious trailer on the edge of a desert…
If someone ever wrote a self-help book that actually worked, one that cured our woes and banished our bad habits, the results would be catastrophic.
The protagonist of this book, Edwin, is an editor in the self-help department at Panderic Inc. He’s a young pessimistic hothead, who is married but in love with his best friend, May. Despite his loser-ish tendencies, he is a likable character.
And once again, May wondered what exactly she saw in such a jumpy, skittish, skinny, sarcastic, compulsive man as our Edwin. And once again, she had no answer. (No one ever does. Not really.)
The book is full of cynicism, sarcasm, and pessimism. It’s clever, funny, and unpredictable. It shows us what our economy is built on (embarrassing, really), and shows us the importance of being joyful. And it is full of great lines:
Two million years of human evolution, 500,000 years of language, 450 years of modern English. The rich heritage of Shakespeare and Wordsworth at his beck and call, and all that Edwin could come up with was “shit”.
This morning he had been happy. Cranky, bitter and weighed down with life, but otherwise generally happy. He had been in a groove, or at least a very comfortable rut.
Some people fished for compliments. Jenni sent out bottom-trawling Liberian fleets to scour the ocean floor.
Is this how the world ends: not with a bang, but a warm fuzzy hug?
Plato wrote that human happiness was the ultimate goal of life. But Plato was a dipshit and human happiness is vastly overrated.
I don’t read a lot of funny books. I find it hard to find ones that are truly good (funny, smart, with good writing all in one). What funny books have you read and loved? Have you read anything by Will Ferguson that you liked?