Book Review: How To Be Happy by Eleanor Davis

How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis


Eleanor Davis’s How to be Happy is the artist’s first collection of graphic/literary short stories. Davis is one of the finest cartoonists of her generation, and has been producing comics since the mid-2000s. Happy represents the best stories she’s drawn for such curatorial venues as Mome and No-Brow, as well as her own self-publishing and web efforts. Davis achieves a rare, subtle poignancy in her narratives that are at once compelling and elusive, pregnant with mystery and a deeply satisfying emotional resonance. Happy shows the full range of Davis’s graphic skills — sketchy drawing, polished pen and ink line work, and meticulously designed full color painted panels– which are always in the service of a narrative that builds to a quietly devastating climax.

(Description from Goodreads.)

How To Be Happy – Review:

Despite the title, Davis makes it clear that her graphic novel is not a how-to on happiness. I picked this book up from the library because the cover image was so striking and beautiful. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but if it makes a positive impression, isn’t that ok? I tend to think so.

This book is more of a meditation on what happiness is, or in some cases, what it isn’t. Davis’s illustrations throughout the book are gorgeous and quirky, but the stories were not always so successful for me. Davis doesn’t hand-feed you the moral of the story. She lets you mull over the story to draw your own conclusions. When it works, the stories stick in your mind for days, but when she doesn’t lead you close enough to the key to her stories, it can be a letdown. That said, I loved her intro page in the book. It set a great tone to her collection – short and sweet little snippets. The black and white mini-portrait sketches fall down the page with the text,

Write a story. A story about yourself. A story about you life. Now, believe it. Now write another story, same subject. A better story. More interesting. Stronger characters. Now, believe that. Just keep writing. You have plenty of time.

That, in a way, is her how-to on happiness. Have faith in yourself, change what needs to be improved, keep revising until you’re satisfied. That seems like sound advice to me!

Most of her stories do a great job of evoking a feeling, rather than giving you a conclusion. The stories tend to be open-ended, but if you don’t mind that, I think the How To Be Happy is worth a read.

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