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Picturing a World

What makes this book so happy (4): Friendship

“When I see girls of seventeen, it makes me think once I, too, was a maiden in Grenelle.” So goes the first verse of the lyrics to Aristide Bruant’s song “A Grenelle.” Jeanette is nineteen at the start of Where the Light Falls, but she walks to the Académie Julian with friends every morning, so I loved coming across this picture by Steinlen. While I was writing, I very much wanted my art students’ friendship to be central to the story because I have loved reading books about girls’ and women’s friendships ever since I was in second grade reading Betsy-Tacy to myself.

Thanks to Prevention’s list of 55 Happy Books Proven to Boost Your Mood, I have found a new one: The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore. It’s about three African-American women in a small town in Indiana who have been friends since high school and are now facing the problems of late middle age. It’s smart, funny, touching, heart-breaking, and heart-warming. The author is a cellist with a superb musical pedigree and career; but he’s also clearly multi-talented. On the whole, in this blog I try to focus on women artists, but men this understanding are welcome to the club!

Another man welcome to the club is Andrew Solomon. His book, Far from the Tree might be a surprise on the Prevention list. How does a book about families struggling with a child’s sexual orientation, profound deafness, autism, dwarfism, multiple handicaps, criminal delinquency, or other “otherness” count as a happy book? Well, in each chapter Solomon shows how parents and children manage to negotiate the differences between them, the ways that parents find to turn problems into opportunities, and how the children find support and meaning among people outside their family who are living with the same condition. It’s a wide-ranging, deeply researched book. It is not always “happy”; but it is full of love that invites—no, enables—you to open your eyes and your heart. Full disclosure: I’ve known Andrew personally for a long time; and when I saw that both our books appeared on one list, it gave me a little leap of joy.

Here’s hoping that a book on the list gives you a cheering boost (and, of course, I hope it’s mine).

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