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Fiction, Snarkiness, and the Production of Happiness


I'm a Buddhist and I love fiction. Yes I do. This month has been rich with books for me -- not all that surprising because I do work in book publishing, after all, but the shelves have seemed particularly bounteous lately.

An abundance of new fiction hit the shelves, and David Mitchell's Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Voet, Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, and Jennifer Egan's Visit from the Good Squad all accumulated in my "to be read" pile, plus many, many more.

The Man Booker Prize, one of Great Britain's big literary honors, announced their shortlist of finalists and those are on the "to be read" list, too.

As an admirer of the British literary scene, one of my favorite sources of lit news and reviews is The London Review of Books.

I love their peculiar fierceness, their reviews that are really essays about other things, their erudition, their infighting, their snarkiness . . .

Oh that snarkiness. I laughed out loud, I have to say, about Jenny Diski's essay/review for Gretchen Rubin's recet bestseller The Happiness Project.

As a practicing Buddhist, every morning I ask that all beings be happy. As a human being, I am programmed to seek happiness - and determining what happiness may really mean is part of that search.

So why would I get such a kick out of Diski's sly, skilful, souful, and really basely hilarious skewering of a book earnestly written by a fellow seeker of happiness who also seeks the happiness of others?

Because the skewering is so skilful. And a soulful. And snarky. And when I sat down and abided with the mind and abided with at what I felt when I laughed out loud, I'm not ashamed of it, or think it's wrong, or feel bad about it. But I know it's not really going to produce happiness.

I know that much of what I can laugh at comes from anger, anger at the world, at the rising of the feeling that things should be different, somehow, that hypocrisy should be called out, that confused advice is no good advice at all, no matter how well-meaning. I know that anger can be the confused aspect of seeing clearly that something is hypocritical, or unclear, or nonproductive. But I know that the urge to skewer another, no matter how clear or skilful or just totally correct, is not going to produce happiness.

Sigh. But I still laugh at Diski's review, and at Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert, and all the other expert skewerers. And it's going to produce the feeling that I'm going to be skewered as well, someday, for something.

Stick a fork--or a skewer--in me. I'm done. But I've got a lot of reading to do first.

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of course not!

Ah, the pressure of producing an attractive title - that is, a title that draws in some readers.

Of course there is no inherent conflict between being Buddhist and loving fiction, but what I'm looking to do in these pieces here on this blog is to see how the Buddhist philosophy I study informs my everyday activity and my avocations and pursuits--like my long-running love of fiction!

should Buddhists NOT like fiction?

The first sentence confuses me. Is there some inherent conflict between being Buddhist and liking fiction.

There is a bounty of books to be read, I so agree.

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