(Photo from Allrecipes.com)

                                        ODE TO BOOK JOY

                            Books are magic transportable.

                            Free libraries make them quite affordable.

                            It is well-known but still reportable,

                            Libraries need us to stay supportable.

John Grisham hoped he could make a living as a writer. I wasn’t so sure of his career plan, but I had a lifetime of “book joy” as a reader and wanted to be supportive.

He was young and still trying to act like he cared about being a Mississippi lawyer. We knew some of the same folks at Hal and Mal’s music venue in Jackson.

John checked out early from the law firm one weekday afternoon and drove from Jackson to the gone-but-not-forgotten Jonathan Benton Booksellers in Birmingham. The trunk of his car was loaded with copies of his first novel, “A Time to Kill.”

I met him at the bookstore. For nearly an hour, a young woman and I were his only customers. I tried to be diverting but the silence was deafening. I was tap-dancing as fast as I could or whatever the correct metaphor is. He was disappointed that night but not defeated and his own “book joy” propelled him forward.

John Grisham, born to a struggling farm family in Arkansas, had always found his greatest happiness in reading books.  He loved the idea of writing books all day and being paid some for that privilege. I mean, what are the chances for that dream working out?  I hope he’s doing okay but I’m not, pardon this, booking on it.

The writing business is hard as stone and it has been at least since Moses came down the mountain trying to recommend 10 inspired lines to his friends. Even then, people were questioning whether the written word was going to survive the test of time.

Publishing technology changes but books find a way to keep rolling off the presses. The monks who created illuminated manuscripts felt their jobs were at risk when Gutenberg launched his new-fangled gizmo, the printing press. Then, we all thought paper books with that seductive glue smell would be dead as sea scrolls after the Kindles and Nooks plugged in.

BOOK JOY has not only survived but triumphed. Last year, 940 million books were sold in the U.S. and that number increases year after year.

During the COVID pandemic, there has been an understandable spike in sales of books about the search for joy and the psychology of happiness. Here are some popular titles for your consideration:

–“The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor proposes that “Happiness isn’t the result of success—it’s the cause of it.”

–“The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” by Robin Sharma is a parable which teaches how to live a simple, fulfilling life that enhances one’s joy.

–“The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale has been around since Hector was a pup and remains a best-seller. Reverend Peale preaches one can overcome any obstacles in life through faith, positive-thinking and prayer.

–The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson is a popular, 2016 book written from a contrarian’s perspective suggesting all the other happiness and positive-thinking books simply got things wrong. Good l*ck to the public libraries who have the chutzpah to promote this title. Written in a ribald, vulgar tone which contrasts with most “feel good,” faith-laced books, Manson suggests we each need to focus on what personally brings us joy and meaning.

–“Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a classic in general and sports psychology with the central construct being people are happiest when they connect with their inner thoughts and feelings, are “in the zone” with enjoyment, purpose and meaning–fully enthralled. The term we use in “The S.U.N.S. Lifestyle for Aging Joyously” is—SPELLBINDING.

–“The Happiness Hypothosis” by Jonathan Haidt blends the philosophical and theological wisdom of ancient thinkers with insights from the field of positive psychology.

–“The Power of Now” by Eckart Tolle, one of my favorite writers to quote, teaches how to have more happiness by being present in the moment, in the now.

–“The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin is my current favorite of the “happiness how-to” books and one I often gift to people when they are going through a rough patch. Rubin shares insights from her own life experiment about how one can make little changes in various aspects of daily living in order to make a substantial uptick in joy.

BOOK JOY is an exquisitely personal matter but there are some writings which are universally embraced because of their ability to bolster and lift spirits. Besides the works above which are specifically about increasing joy and happiness, here are two dozen grown-up and children’s books I crowdsourced, which every person should consider for their own S.U.N.S. (Smile-Making, Uniting, Neighboring, Spellbinding) BOOK JOY library:

  1. “The Painted House”—John Grisham
  2. “Humankind: Changing the World One Small Act at a Time”—Brad Aronson
  3. “Little Pieces of Hope”—Todd Doughty
  4. “14,000 Things to Be Happy About”—Barbara Ann Kipfer
  5. “Man’s Search for Meaning”—Viktor E. Frankl
  6. “The Little Prince”—Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  7. “The Uncommon Reader”—Alan Bennett
  8. “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”—Haruki Murakami
  9. “Tao De Ching”—Lao Tzu
  10. “How to Walk Away”—a novel by Katherine Center
  11. “All Creatures Great and Small”—James Herriot
  12. “The Art of Happiness”—The Dalai Lama XIV
  13. “Little Women”—Louisa May Alcott
  14. “The Boxcar Children”—Gertrude Chandler Warner
  15. “How to Be Good”—a novel by Nick Hornby
  16. “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant”—Anne Tyler
  17. “The Hobbit”—J.R.R. Tolkien
  18. “The Sound of Music”—Maria von Trapp
  19. “Smile Anyway”—Richelle Goodrich
  20. “Make Your Bed”—Admiral William H. McRaven
  21. “10% Happier”—DAN HARRIS
  22. “The Travels of Babar”—Jean de Brunhoff
  23. “Sinners and Saints”—Alice Bloom
  24. “The Ennegram: Understanding Yourself and Others in Your Life”—Helen Palmer

BOOK JOY is smile-making and spellbinding but readers are picky. Even though millions, literally millions, have found joy in the two dozen books I suggested above, you might find one or two that just don’t do it for you. So, French writer, Daniel Pennac (born Daniel Pennacchioni) penned this:

                                                     “READER’S BILL OF RIGHTS”

1. The right to not read. *

2. The right to skip pages.

3. The right to not finish.

4. The right to reread.

5. The right to read anything.

6. The right to escapism.

7. The right to read anywhere.

8. The right to browse.

9. The right to read out loud.

10. The right to not defend your tastes.

(*Readers of this S.U.N.S. lifestyle series please ignore #1.)


“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”—Mark Twain

“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”—Somerset Maugham

“Reading was and is my real joy.”—Ahmed Zewail

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”—Jane Austen

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog it is too dark to read.”—Groucho Marx

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”—Stephen King

“Get over yourself. Go rake the yard and then read a happy book. Next question?”—My mom’s prescription for positive psychology

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”—Harper Lee

“I love books. I love that moment when you open one and sink into it, you can escape into a story that’s way more interesting than yours will ever be.”—Elizabeth Scott

“The more that you read the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”—Dr. Seuss

The #1 THING A PUBLIC LIBRARY SHOULD DO FOR BOOK JOY—February is “National Love Your Library Month.” I love libraries this and every month and have supported “friends of libraries” groups and actively served on a library board (Birmingham, AL). A dynamic library can be a “heart and soul” community hub.

CELEBRATE THE PATRONS—I was fortunate to be on the design team for one of the major, corporate venues at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. What our team created looked and functioned great. Like all but one sponsor, we celebrated the athletic skill and persistence of the Olympians.

However, the most winning and memorable work was done by the Coca-Cola corporate team who zigged when the rest of us predictably zagged. The huge, Coca-Cola tent celebrated the passion and dedication of the spectators at the Olympic Games.

Each sports fan who walked into the Coca-Cola corporate tent heard the sound of applause thanking them for coming to cheer on the Olympians. The photomurals were of passionate spectators at previous Summer Olympic games.

Libraries are typically quieter, contemplative spaces that don’t regularly need a “applause machine” at the entrance but the priority for passionately DELIGHTING EACH PATRON SHOULD BE #1. Librarians and library workers should be recruited and hired because they have a demonstrable background in customer service and a work history for genuinely respecting, appreciating and understanding patron desires and anticipating how to exceed those expectations. Great library patron service, like great customer service, requires only two things but they are rare in one individual—EFFICIENCY and GOOD PEOPLE SKILLS.

Every decision made by a library board, “friends of libraries” group and paid library workers should ask this simple question: WHAT IS BEST FOR PATRONS? Let’s love our libraries and help them show us patrons they love us. BOOK JOY (all media) FOR ALL!

YOUR FREE, $90, BOOK JOY RELATIONSHIP ADVICE THAT WORKS—For years, the most popular, relationship counselor in Alabama was a big, bearded, Birmingham professional named Jim Cotton.  While paying $90 for 50 minutes of his wisdom, I once asked Jim if in his decades of work, he’d found anything that gives individuals and clients insight that worked.

“THERE IS ONE THING THAT WORKS”—yes sir, please—“and that is to ask ‘What was your favorite children’s book and why?’” Jim Cotton replied. His answer seemed perhaps too simple but I’m here to vouch it works.  

I’ve used this question in personal and work relationships to understand another and provide insight into my dynamic with them. This fun-but-brilliant exercise works because whichever book you begged your parents to read to you over and over or the one you read until the pages came unglued, connects with your core personality. Please enjoy the $90 savings and explore this with your spouse, “gratitude partner,” co-workers, friends and others.

One of the best-looking, most fun and positively contributing, married couples in my community, Tanya Alcorn, president of Cullman Friends of Libraries, and her husband, Jason, gave me their answers to this BOOK JOY question and agreed I could share with you readers.

Charismatic, charming, creative Tanya—loop by the Cullman library to see the newly painted, fresh, lime green and turquoise walls in the children’s area—said her favorite book as a child and one she still adores is “Happy Birthday to You” by Dr. Seuss. Per Tanya, “I love how the book celebrates life and enjoying every moment of the wacky and wonderful things around us. We should never stop celebrating the big and small things with those we love.”

Jason, a star athlete and now part-owner in his family’s machine manufacturing firm, appears to have come out of the womb eager to know what makes things work. Per Jason, “Virginia Lee Burton’s ‘Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel’ was my favorite. The story of an antiquated machine and its owner remaining relevant through effort, creativity, and a willingness to reinvent themselves is as inspiring now as it was years ago.”

I’m betting this dynamic duo has more opportunities for fun and lively, creative conversations than Chip and Joanna Gaines. Dear Reader, now it’s your turn to ask the insightful, BOOK JOY questions of yourself and someone close to you. Please Facebook Message me at Ben South to share your findings.

“BOOKS AND BREWS” is next Wednesday, February 23 from 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at Goat Island Brewery. This joyful event supports the Friends of Cullman Libraries. I can say from experience that savoring a Goat Island Blood Orange beer while reading definitely hoists the BOOK JOY to a new high.

BOOK JOY at BRANCH BOOKS (Hartselle, AL)—You can almost hear the applause for each book lover who enters this efficient, charming haven. Branch Books, an independent bookstore (used and rare books), 15 minutes from my house in Cullman, is not just staying alive, but growing. They have 125,000+ books in accessible inventory and another 200,000 books in storage. Branch Books is getting ready to double their offerings and expand into the building next door. Cookbooks? They have about 300 and while you’re savoring your newest, you can enjoy coffee or a full meal just steps away in the same plaza at Mr. Henry’s. Books about “joy and happiness?” This great bookstore has a shelf of smiles and the owners are eager to help you find your bliss. BOOK JOY is #1 at Branch Books but they also have lots of DVDs, audio books, CDs and puzzles. Novels by John Grisham are a popular request and also those of Kristin Hannah, Beverly Lewis, Karen Kingsbury, J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, James Patterson, Dean Koontz, Harlan Coban, C.J. Box, Stephen King…and anything by Colleen Hoover. The majority of their books are priced at 70% off retail every day. For contact info, driving directions, hours/days of business call owners, Cheryl and Bobby Kahlstorf at (256) 754-5111 and enjoy Branch Books updates on Facebook.


Feb. 19—Millie Bobby Brown

Feb. 20—Ansel Adams

Feb. 21—Erma Bombeck

Feb. 22—George Washington

Feb. 23—Aziz Ansari

Feb. 24—Steve Jobs

Feb. 25—Jack Handey


A patron walks into a library and asks the librarian for books about paranoia. She whispers, “Shh, they’re right behind you.”

What do you call a book club that’s been stuck on the same book for years? CHURCH

A shopper walked into Branch Books and said: “I’d like to buy a book by Shakespeare.” Cheryl said, “Great, any particular one?” The said, “William, of course.”


              (This healthy, easy, tasty soup salutes Arkansas native, best-selling book author, John Grisham. The recipe is sourced from allrecipes.com)

Each week, Joy & Gerontology shares a recipe saluting healthy food produced in America. The delicious and nutritious collection is called “The S.U.N.S. USA Longevity Cookbook” and highlights Vitamin B-3 (niacin) which many research gerontologists believe holds the promise for a long, healthy, joyful life.


5 cups chicken broth

2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

1 cup diced celery

1 cup diced onions

¼ cup diced carrots

¼ cup corn

¼ cup drained and rinsed black beans

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

¾ cup brown rice


Step 1) Bring chicken broth to a boil in a large pot; cook chicken breasts in the boiling water until no longer pin in the center, about 20 minutes. Remove chicken from the broth using a slotted spoon and shred with a fork.

Step 2) Stir shredded chicken, celery, onion, carrots, corn, black beans, sage, pepper, salt and bay leaf into the chicken broth and cook until vegetables are slightly softened and flavors of soup have blended, about 20 minutes. Add brown rice to soup and simmer until rice is tender, about 1 hour.


162. Erma Bombeck’s newspaper column.

163. “Yosemite” photographed by Ansel Adams.

164. George Washington, American joy-giver.

165. Bicycle handlebar tassels.

166. Clipping playing cards in bicycle tire spokes to sound like a motorcycle.

167. “Edward Scissorhands” topiary.

168. Topiary in Cancun, Mexico.

169. Hot lava brownies.

170. Grilled peaches.

171. Rah-Rah cheerleader shoes.

172. “O’ Brother Where Art Thou,” the movie.

173. “O’ Brother Where Art Thou,” the soundtrack.

174. Minnie Pearl’s hat with $1.98 price tag.

175. “Manners will take you places money won’t.”

176. “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis.

177. George Plimpton’s “participatory journalism.”

178. “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.”

179. Shot glass souvenirs.

180. Spoon rests.

181. Eating a sun-warmed tomato pulled right off the vine.

182. Knowing avocados are berries.

183. Charley Pride, Mississippi-American joy-giver.



Ben South