Just surveying his career path is enough to convince anyone that Laurence Shorter was born for the sunny side of the street. After all, a one-time businessman who quit his job to make his living as a BBC journalist and “comedy dancer” (whatever that may be) in London pubs can’t naturally be inclined to worry much about the future. But given that he’s a sensitive fellow in a boom time for pessimism—possibly its best of times since the Cuban missile crisis—Shorter found himself increasingly unable to get out of bed by the summer of 2006. (God only knows what he’s feeling like now.) In desperation he decided to turn himself into an optimist by seeking out and interviewing the positive-minded—including Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu and a surfing Rabbi in California—while being dragged down the whole time by his father, a man whose pessimism makes Eeyore look like Pollyanna.
The result is The Optimist, an ultimately serious book that’s actually pretty funny. (Not least because its publication crowns today, Jan. 19, which is 2009’s most depressing day of the year. British psychologist Cliff Arnall made the original calculations back in 2005, after devising an equation that factored in such markers as weather, Christmas debt, time since Christmas cheer, time since New Year’s resolutions began to fail—and the nearest Monday to that point.) By the time a reader becomes emotionally involved in Shorter’s quixotic, seemingly hopeless quest to get close enough to Clinton to ask a question, your inner optimist will reign supreme, even while it wonders why the pessimists are all funnier.