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Whatever Makes You Happy

Best Seller
Whatever Makes You Happy by Lisa Grunwald
Paperback $13.95
Aug 08, 2006 | ISBN 9780812973211

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  • Aug 08, 2006 | ISBN 9780812973211

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  • May 31, 2005 | ISBN 9781588364593

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Product Details


"A snappy, pleasant novel content with its own wit."
The New York Observer

“Grunwald tells the story with a wit. . . that never quite conceals the sting of wisdom just below. Perhaps it’s no surprise that by the end of her well-turned and winning tale, we see and feel, as Farber does, that the pursuit of happiness is really nothing more than a recipe for misery.” 
— Pico Iyer, Time Magazine

“From Aristotle to Edith Wharton, from laughter therapy to bedoom farce, this novel is a dictionary of delights.”
— Cathleen Medwick, O, the Oprah Magazine

"Sally’s quest for personal fulfillment allows Grunwald to muse on the roots of happiness, mining sources as diverse as Aristotle and Charles Schulz to present a porvocative array of answers. Whatever Makes You Happy is a satisfying portrait of upper-middle-class angst. But it is also the tale of a woman’s pursuit of a life philosophy–and through that search, readers may discover stepping stones for their own."
— Alissa Quart, More Magazine

“Grunwald’s interweaving of scholarly quotations about happiness and excerpts of real-life research on the matter cleverly ground this novel, in which the main character is on the verge of spinning out of control as she searches for her own brand of happiness. Chock-full of penetrating and wry perceptions, this novel is recommended for all public libraries.”
Library Journal

“Attempting to fool everyone, but especially herself, into believing that she’s only ‘researching’ the pursuit of happiness, Sally Farber searches for that ephemeral quality in all sorts of droll places–from the writings of Voltaire to the Laughter Institute to the bed of a famous artist. To no one’s surprise, she learns that what does not lie within remains elusive without. And as Lisa Grunwald’s odyssey of slapstick erudition unfolds, Sally seems stubbornly fated to remain without her heart’s desire, until the very last page is turned. This book comprises the best of both reads: a serious romp, and a saucy philosophical sashay.”
Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and The Breakdown Lane

“Smart and exceedingly charming.”
W Magazine

“Grunwald explores the meaning of happiness, drawing inspiration from poets and pop icons…readers may find themselves considering what underlies their own happiness–and what they would risk to find more.”
People Magazine

Praise for Lisa Grunwald
“Her poetic gift for language, her sympathy for her characters, and her knowledge of how their emotions grow, shift, and collide all work together to help realize the large ambitions of this novel.”
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times, about The Theory of Everything

“Beautiful, bizarre, and breathtaking . . . Harrowing in its pace, fearless in its depiction of the most tender emotions, this is a novel of exquisite grace. . . . A mesmerizing celebration of family love in all its sweetness and ferocity.”
–TK, Chicago Tribune, about New Year’s Eve

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Lisa Grunwald

Question: In the beginning of the novel, Sally seems to have it all:
the perfect husband, two wonderful children, and a comfortable
lifestyle in New York City. But we learn quickly it isn’t that simple.
Do you think Sally is an everywoman, that it’s impossible to really
have it all? Or is she different somehow?

Lisa Grunwald: I meant, for better or worse, for Sally to be something
of an everywoman, because a vast slice of American women
in the twenty-first century do indeed, from any objective standpoint,
have very little to complain about. Yet the search for happiness,
or perhaps for a deeper experience of happiness, is something
they also seem to share.

Q: Your novel is an interesting character study, both of individuals
and of couples. How did you create such realistic yet different dynamics
between the book’s couples (Sally and Michael, T.J. and
Ethan, and Marathon and Lucas)?

LG: I think that if it strikes readers that way, it may be because in
one of my many earlier drafts of this novel, there was actually an
equal focus on all three women, and thus all three couples.

Q: Sally’s relationship with her mother is pitch-perfect. How did
you construct such an overbearing yet still loveable character?

LG: This was one of those strange things that sometimes happens
when you write fiction. My own mother died when I was twentyone
and was not, in any case, at all like Sally’s mother. She’s really
not based on anyone I know, at least not in her entirety. Yet she
really did seem quite real to me as well. I can’t explain it any better
than that.

Q: T.J. and Sally are, in a lot of ways, opposites (with different careers,
home lives, and opinions of Sally’s affair). What do you
think their friendship adds to the story? What do the two women
learn from each other?

LG: On the one hand, I think T.J. serves as a kind of reminder
for Sally of the silliness that searching for happiness can involve
(the happiness candles, the “relaxation system”), as well as of
the transparency of using work to escape one’s problems. On
the other hand, it’s T.J. who ultimately gives voice to a defense
of marriage, and in many ways that is an even more profound

Q: Lucas’s art plays a big part in his courtship of Sally. How,
and why, did you decide to make him an artist? And what’s the
significance of his artistic style (the signature colors, the simple

LG: I felt Lucas needed to be an artist because I wanted him to appeal
to the deeper side of Sally: the restless, probing, and yes, less
happy side of her. Unlike Michael, whose work is entirely practical,
Lucas has a creative and obviously brilliant career, and that is
obviously attractive to Sally. As far as his style goes, I knew it
needed to make some use of words, in order for him to convey his
message about happiness directly. And the rest—he signature colors,
and so forth—as just me having fun.

Q: Katie and Emily’ experiences at summer camp make for an interesting
break in the action of Sally’ life. Do you think the girls
had to leave for the summer for Sally to go through everything she
experienced? Did you make a conscious effort to give the girls decidedly
different camp experiences? Why or why not?

LG: The girls’leaving for camp is absolutely the trigger for Sally’
experiences. At one point I thought about calling the novel The
Summer of My Discontent
because without that pseudo–mpty
nest, I don’ think Sally would have had the affair. It’ not just that
she has the time and space with the girls away. It’ the fact that
their absence really frightens her into a crisis about the meaning
in her own life. As for the girls’different experiences, those are—
ike the characters of the girls themselves—ery much intended to
support the theory that some aspects of happiness are simply engendered
by our natures.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading Whatever
Makes You Happy

LG: Other than the desire to buy all my previous and future
books? I hope, first of all, that they take away some solace in the
notion that if they sometimes have a difficult time experiencing
some of the joys in their lives, they’e not alone. And second, even
if they’e reached a point where it seems that they’e on the wrong
path, that they know the next piece of blue beach glass may be glittering
just up ahead.

Q: In your acknowledgements, you thank your own children for
their wisdom and plot suggestions. How were they able to add to
the story?

LG: My son, who was eight at the time, came up with the idea of
hiding the blue glass behind a poster. Until then, I was stumped
about how Sally was going to find it. And my daughter, who was
twelve, gave me endless wisdom during a series of beach walks we
shared, where she managed to ask just the right questions. Having
said that, I’ add that neither of them has read the book, and neither
is too thrilled with the thought that someone might think
there are autobiographical elements in it!

Q: You’e written works of fiction, nonfiction, and a book for children.
Which genre do you most enjoy? Which is the hardest to
write? The easiest?

LG: I’ rather write a sentence I love than do just about anything
else, and it doesn’ much matter in what genre that sentence appears.
In a larger sense, though, fiction is for me both the hardest
and ultimately the most rewarding.

Q: What are you working on now?

LG: I’ writing a new novel, this one based largely in the 1940s
and ’50s.

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