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Party Like It’s 2044: Joni B. Cole Is Finding the Funny And More
Norwich Bookstore, September 28
I seldom review books here on Artful, even if asked nicely. The problem is that books—particularly novels—require more time than I possess just to read from beginning to end, which is the only way to do it if you are going to judge the book with any credibility. Compilations of poetry, or essays, are different. They consist of individual bite-sized works. Sample a handful and you’ve probably read enough to render a reasonably informed opinion. It’s one—though certainly not the only—reason I found myself with Joni B. Cole’s newest book, “Party Like It’s 2044: Finding the Funny in Life and Death” thinking I could read a few excerpts and write this post in an early afternoon.
Except that after I read the title essay, and the one recommended in the dedication, I had to read another one, and another, and now it is past 6:00 pm with dinner barely sorted out, and this is about the dozenth time in a single sitting that I have set the book aside unsuccessfully to gather my thoughts and put something on the screen. Because, it seems, I simply cannot put this book down without picking it back up to indulge in reading just “one more.”
“Finding the funny” is a daunting task these days, and it’s Ms. Cole’s super-power. Her essays are relatable and unsparing and filled with everyday human moments and thoughts (thousands of thoughts per day as it turns out). She can cause you to share— as in feel right along with her—her sweaty awkwardness at a Zumba class, to ponder the qualities of the ideal bathrobe, to wonder whether you’re doing enough to eradicate racism.
Maybe because I live in the Upper Valley, where travel talk is a constant and I am a traveler and Joni, apparently, is not-so-much, I cannot stop re-reading and laughing anew at her opening entry, “We’ll Never Have Guatemala.” Upon finding herself amid a handful of dinner guests in the UV extolling the virtues of travel to Guatemala, Joni admits to her readers that “Clearly, I was behind the door when God passed out the desire for passport stamps.” She goes on to note, however, that her homebody proclivities did not keep her from providing her children with their own travel experiences. She wonders if she suffers from “Munchhausen’s by proxy, only the travel version in which I garner positive attention for myself by foisting travel adventures on my daughters.“
And of course while you are laughing, often out loud, the essays can take you to places unexpected. The bathrobe one, for example, led me to somewhere darker, more probing, with my own teary (not a single tear, Joni!) memories of my long-ailing father, who incidentally was also a relentless finder of the funny. “Recalculating, Recalculating, Recalculating” is a humorous description of being directionally challenged as well as a more sober contemplation of the road (no pun) not taken.
Enough. I would say that I have given away too many of this book’s secrets, but in fact there are pages more to discover. Get a copy. Be prepared to be reading straight through what would otherwise be dinner time.
Joni B. Cole is a writer and writing teacher. She will be appearing at the Norwich Bookstore on September 28 at 7 pm. For details, go to the bookstore’s website calendar. For more information about Joni, click here. An earlier Artful review of her book “Good Naked” can be found here.
(Photo, top, courtesy of Joni B. Cole)
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.