My go-to books when reading for relaxation are usually fiction books, such as the iconic works of Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall, so this book was a different-to-usual choice.

Book review: Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness

Charlotte Forwood, Director of Learning Design and Development at Camberwell Girls Grammar School in Victoria has penned a review of British comedian, musician, actor and presenter Bill Bailey’s latest book, Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness.

As a long-time fan of Bill Bailey, dating back to his role in the quirky British TV series Black Books, I had high expectations of this publication. Bill Bailey’s book is not a self-help guide, simply ‘a few accounts of fortuitous moments and remarkable times’ when he experienced something that felt like happiness to him. His simple hope is that his whimsical writing might ‘strike a chord’ or ‘might just make you smile’.

With his unique perspectives and use of language, Bill Bailey cleverly and enticingly leads the reader through a series of short essays, selecting a simple everyday object, action, experience or thought to explore the idea of happiness. With his usual playfulness with words, Bailey draws the reader into little-thought-of experiences, triggers surprising memories and frequently elicits an unexpected chuckle. (It is recommended that housemates are forewarned about the potential symptoms associated with reading this book).

Each vignette is short, easily digested and leaves a pleasurable aftertaste. As someone who regularly consumes a novel in one or two sittings, it felt incredibly decadent to take the time to savour each anecdote, embrace the emotions elicited or lose myself in a deeply recessed memory. Enhanced by quirky sketches and photos created by the author himself, it is impossible not to smile when each new thought or observation is revealed.

A seemingly random collection of topics is explored and mulled over with glorious abandon. Bill Bailey’s exploration of little things brings him ‘a small, Morris-Minor-Traveller-glove-box-light glow of contentment.’ His exploration of Icelanders’ high levels of happiness – connection with the land, and a strong sense of identity and belonging stirred emotional memories of my own explorations of the harsh Icelandic landscape in the company of a group of delighted and delightful locals. A piece on playing the gamelan (a xylophone-type instrument) provided a glimpse into the hypnotic impact of communal music making and in a richly described section on art, Bill Bailey ponders the effect that art can have on us. His reflections are a combination of observation peppered with QI-type facts.

It is a source of delight knowing that in a Magic Pudding type of way, this book can be read again and again and each revisiting is even more flavoursome and inviting than the initial reading. Having read the book twice already, the first time chronologically and the second time with random dipping in and out, I continually help myself to one portion at a time, often as a treat at the end of a particularly long day. It always achieves the intended outcome – a brush with happiness.

If you are after a light read that requires little time commitment but offers room to think and smile, then take the plunge and dip into Bill Bailey’s off-beat reflection on how the simple things we see, feel and do can lead us to pops of joy and happiness.

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