Happiness by Will Ferguson

Will Ferguson37478 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?

17 thoughts on “Happiness by Will Ferguson

  1. Cathy746books says:

    This sounds great! I’ve always thought about what would happen if there was a self help book that actually worked (the publishing industry would be brought to it’s knees for a start!). Like you, I don’t often seek out funny books but I last year I read and loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette? By Maria Semple. Given that she was a writer on Arrested Development, I should gave known I would love it.

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, I also loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette? That was a good one.

      In Happiness, the publishing industry was brought to it’s knees, as well as many others, some for obvious reasons, but others for reasons I wouldn’t have thought of. It was very well done. You would think it a good thing if everyone became happy all the time.

  2. Cecilia says:

    Ha ha, that does sound pretty funny. The only humorist I read is David Sedaris. Not everything he writes tickles my funny bone, but I enjoy him overall. I enjoyed his collections Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day.

    • Naomi says:

      I read Me Talk Pretty One Day, and liked it, but, like you, not all of it made me laugh. Maybe I should try another of his books. I know a lot of people really like him.

  3. Care says:

    This look interesting. I read another book recently about a self-help book that was written as a satire but was instead embraced as self-help and got the poor author all in a tizzy because he didnt MEAN it to be self-help. I will look into this. THanks.

  4. Naomi Baltuck says:

    This sounds really funny. My sister reads a lot of self-help books, so I think I will have to read this and pass it on to her.
    One of my favorite books is English Passengers by Matthew Kneale. It is heartbreaking, but intriguing, and an important book, like Schindler’s List was, yet it provides ample comic relief as Kneale skillfully tells the story of Tasmania and the effect of English influence on its native population and culture over the course of just one generation. His characters are compelling, and it is so interesting for the reader to jump forward and backwards in time, and to have all these seemingly unconnected scenes come together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
    I once happened upon a list of the ten best historical novels of all time, and about halfway through I told my family, if “English Passengers” isn’t on this list, I will totally discount all the other recommendations. As it turns out, English Passengers was number eight.

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks for the recommendation! I just looked it up, and it sounds wonderful. How can you go wrong when the book has a character with the name of Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley? Love it! It has gone on my list of must-reads.

      • Naomi Baltuck says:

        I SO enjoyed Captain Kewley. He is the main source of comic relief in this story, with his crew of hilariously naughty but good natured Manx men, who just never seem to catch a lucky break. I’d love to hear what you think after you’ve read it.

  5. Carolyn O says:

    I love (smart) funny books! Fraud (essays) by David Rakoff is one of my new favorites, and I love David Sedaris, of course. Christopher Moore is my favorite wacky-funny author (Lamb is unbelievably good), and my favorite serious-but-with-a-sense-of-humor-writer is Richard Russo.

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks for the many recommendations! I have a couple of Moore’s books (maybe even Lamb), but I haven’t read them for fear of not thinking they’re funny, so I’m very happy to hear that they are.

  6. ebookclassics says:

    I’ve been curious about Will Ferguson, but haven’t read anything by him. I keep hearing that 419 is a good book. Reading your review reminds me that I wanted to try reading more funny books this year. Maybe I will have to pick a month.

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