Tuesday, May 9, 2017

New Release: The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone

The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness
by Paula Poundstone

Publisher: Algonquin Books

Is there a secret to happiness? Beloved comedian Paula Poundstone conducts a series of “thoroughly scientific” experiments to find out, offering herself up as a guinea pig and recording her data for the benefit of all humankind. Armed with her unique brand of self-deprecating wit and the scientific method, in each chapter Paula tries out a different get-happy hypothesis. She gets in shape with taekwondo. She drives fast behind the wheel of a Lamborghini. She communes with nature while camping with her daughter. Swing dancing? Meditation? Volunteering? Does any of it bring her happiness? And more important, can the happiness last when she returns to the daily demands of her chaotic life?

The results are irreverent, laugh-out-loud funny, and pointedly relevant to our times. The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness is both a hilarious story of jumping into new experiences with both feet and a surprisingly poignant tale of a working mother raising three kids. Paula is a master of her craft. Her comedic brilliance, served up in abundance in this book, has been compared to that of George Carlin, Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin, and David Sedaris.

My Review:

If I were asked to pin a moral to this story, I’d say that trying new things can result in unexpected adventures. Sometimes those adventures are fun, sometimes aggravating, and sometimes rewarding. This book is a lot of fun, but I think there is real meaning among the gags, the embarrassments, the moody teens, and the cats.

And even more surprisingly, I found this book to be somewhat scientific despite the tongue-in-cheek disclaimer in the title and the heavy use of ironically scientific report headers throughout. After all, what is science but testing out an idea and documenting your results.

This book is the result of seven years of intense personal research, and the results of the experiments are mixed. Some worked, some didn’t, and none were predictable, even within the same experiment. To tell you the truth, I’m impressed with the author for putting herself out there and jumping right into some things that were very much out of her comfort zone.

I loved the chapters that give the results in a running, time stamped log. The movie day one was hilarious. The mortifying foray into swing dancing was another favorite, both because of the humor, but also because the experience highlights another interesting result, that happiness is complex.

Anyhow, I really liked this book. While it wasn’t as over the top as I’d expected from a book by a comedian, it was real, it made me laugh, and near the end there, if I’m honest, it made me cry a little, too. I’d totally recommend this to folks who enjoy memoirs with a good dose of humor and also to those who want the inside scoop on finding their own personal brand of happiness.

I picked up the advance review copy of this book from NetGalley.

About the Author:
Heralded as one of our country’s foremost comics, Paula Poundstone's quick thinking, unscripted approach to comedy makes for the perfect fit as a regular panelist on NPR’s #1 show, the screwball weekly news quiz show WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! where she holds the record for game losses. "The others cheat," she says magnanimously, "you wouldn't think NPR would put up with that."

Paula tours regularly, performing standup comedy across the country. Writes Nick Zaino with the Boston Globe: "You know she’s a great comic the way you know any fine performer when you see one -- there's a disarming ease in her craft, an immediate sense that she's so quick on her feet you need never worry about the possibility of something going wrong.” Paula’s interchanges with the audience are never mean or done at a person’s expense. She even manages to handle politics without provoking the pall of disapproval received by less artful comics. "With the exception of that one time," Paula claims.

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