Thursday, October 27, 2011

Geography of Bliss

All right, Goodreads. Maybe you've got a good statistician up your sleeve after all. First The Dart League King and now The Geography of Bliss. Maybe you do have a little sense in your recommendations.

Of the plethora of recommendations that Goodreads gives, I opted for this one because I thought is was great that it was chosen for me because I read Eat, Pray, Love and The Sex Lives of Cannibals. I wouldn't have normally made that connection and am surprised that others read that pair of books to come up with this recommendation.

It's not entirely surprising. All three books are travelogues. And the subtitle of Geography of Bliss - one grump's search for the happiest places in the world - does have a bit of similarity to Elizabeth Gilbert's quest. She may not have been a grump but she was looking for happiness.

In Eric Weiner's book, he starts off by going to the Netherlands to meet with a happiness researcher. This fellow has been collecting data on the happiness of people around the world and Weiner decides to use the fellows database to explore what common traits these countries might have. He visits some of the happiest countries in the world as well as some on the bottom of the list for contrast purposes.

In the end, he finds that there aren't a lot of similarities and that every country also has it's downsides. If anything, Weiner realizes that happiness is largely relative and that there are a few things that bring happiness regardless of where you are in the world such as a network of friends and family.

That being said, I'm still a believer that place can at least enhance, if not provide, happiness. That's why Barn in New England and City of Your Final Destination are such favorites of mine. Of the countries that Weiner visits, Iceland, Bhutan and the Netherlands all sounded appealing to me and I have been to the Netherlands and it did feel very much like some place I could call home.

As far as Weiner goes, I thought he was a riot. I laughed out loud several times just in the opening few pages. He has great turns of phrases. He finds the right balance of being a journalist and reporting about the places he's visiting but bringing himself in, usually in a self-deprecating sort of way, to keep it entertaining and not turn it into a documentary.

I loved it, can see myself re-reading it, and it will likely find it's way into my top ten of the year. Better than Eat, Pray, Love? Hard to say. Very different perspectives. Very different styles. I think in a head-to-head matchup, I would give the nod to Gilbert, though.

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