Wednesday, September 21, 2016

`A Cheap, Easy High--With No Side Effects'

Art that makes people happy is guaranteed to make certain other people itchy. The notion of deriving pleasure -- more than pleasure: felicity -- from artistic creation arouses deep suspicion in some. Art is serious stuff, and nothing is less serious than happiness. Every sophisticate knows that. Terry Teachout has recycled a ten-year-old post devoted to the music he listens to whenever he feels “the urgent need to upgrade my mood.” He writes, “I’ve always found music to be one of the most potent means of attitude adjustment known to man,” and his experience jibes with mine. (Hello, Jack Teagarden. Hello, Paul Desmond.) Music’s impact is prompt and unambiguous. In contrast, literature is an oral ingestion of medicine compared to the intravenous immediacy of music. Happiness, however, is not the only reason to read. Many great works are unequivocally unhappy, or describe unhappy circumstances. Likewise, happiness means many contradictory things. Given all that, here is an unpremeditated sampler of printed matter that reliably makes me happy:

Most anything by A.J. Liebling, Vladimir Nabokov and P.G. Wodehouse

Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditation

The “Cruiskeen Lawn” columns of Myles na gCopaleen in the Irish Times

The poems of Marianne Moore, Richard Wilbur and Eric Ormsby

Tristram Shandy, especially the scenes with Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman

The essays of Joseph Epstein and Guy Davenport

A handful of stories by Chekhov, John Cheever and Eudora Welty

The “Days Trilogy” of H.L. Mencken

Whitney Balliett’s descriptions of jazz musicians performing

As Terry says at the close of his musical post: “I don’t guarantee results, but all of the items on this list can be counted on to give me a cheap, easy high–with no side effects.”

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