Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Last Week's Book: Chicken Soup for the Soul

A fitting accompaniment for law school exams... also my third last Book a Week. Hard to believe.

December 9-15: Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen

Non-Fiction (1993 - 193 pp.) 

Now apparently also the provenance of a TV show and a health food line, Chicken Soup for the Soul started as this solitary book. It is compiled by two motivational speakers, and consists of a collection of stories submitted by various people, mostly from the United States. Others are by Canfield and Hansen. Each details someone who did something extraordinary. The usual fare consists of people who ran after having their legs amputated, children who sold more cookies than the other children, that sort of thing. The overarching message - that people should be nice to each other and that we can all do something special in the world - is a good one, no matter how cynical the recent economy may have made people. 

A few of the stories surprised me, some in a good way, some not so much.  "The Animal School" shows a libertarian leaning that I was not expecting, not so much for being libertarian as such but because a book by motivational speakers doesn't strike me as political. "I Love You, Son" is probably the most touching story here, for the combined reasons of speaking to what it means to be a father as well as making me look back a little guiltily on my own experiences as a child. (It concerns whether children ever truly appreciate their fathers enough.) "Rest in Peace" is probably my favourite story, having to do with telling people to bury everything they think they can't do, and it resonates the most with my life. "Service with a Smile" is an adorable story that will resonate with every dog lover. "The Touch of the Master's Hand", aside from its uplifting message about the value we often miss in things, mentions potage, which I know better than most thanks to reading If Walls Could Talk this past August. 

"Big Ed" and "Just Say It!" discuss the difficulties people have telling each other they love each other, and not in that first time ever telling a significant other way but even within a family. That something so natural should be so difficult is something I find troubling. "I Know You, You're Just Like Me" may have seemed heartwarming such a short time after the collapse of the USSR but is, to make an understatement, less than heartwarming to Central Europeans. "Ask, Ask, Ask" and "Tommy's Bumper Sticker" feel overly reliant on the fact that their protagonists are children; relying on being a cute child to sell products should not be seen as the hallmark of salesmanship. "Rick's Little Quest", "John Corcoran", and "She Saved 219 Lives" send some likely unintentionally morose messages. The first validates a young man's decision to drop out of school, the second discusses the successes of a man who was admitted all the way through the education system despite being illiterate, and the third glosses over someone's premeditated forgery of birth certificates. None of those warm my heart in the least, no matter what good came at the end. 

Hypothetically, Chicken Soup for the Soul is an exercise in challenging everyone to be the best s/he can be, regardless of adverse circumstances. "Run, Patti, Run" is the story that embodies this message the best. At the end of a story about a woman who ran record-setting distances in face of epilepsy, in question form no less, it asks, "If Patti Wilson can do so much with so little, what can you do to outperform yourself in a state of total wellness?" Whether this is inspirational or guilt-inducing depends on who you are, I suppose. 

Ease of Reading: 10 
Educational Content: 4

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