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How Happy to Be [Paperback]

Katrina Onstad
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 3 2006
Sharp, urban, witty, wise — this sparkling debut is the thinking woman’s answer to chick lit Maxime is an entertainment writer at a flailing neo-con newspaper. She’s been dining out too long, literally and figuratively, on a culture of celebrity worship and empty punditry. She seeks refuge from her better judgment in endless parties, ritual substance abuse, and half-hearted attempts to get herself fired, but in a libertarian newsroom where outrageous spin is the easiest way to sell papers, her bad-girl behaviour just wins her more accolades.

Along this path of self-destruction, Max’s past, comic and poignant, keeps intruding: memories of her mother’s brutal death and her hippie father’s crippling breakdown; the reappearance of an aging vegan idealist who briefly played her stepmom on the West Coast commune where she came of age; tender realizations about the bad artist she was supposed to marry and a long-lost boyfriend who seems exotically sane. When a host of prior indiscretions finally catches up with her, Maxime realizes that any chance at happiness depends on uncovering, at last, her one true story.

Set during the madness of the Toronto International Film Festival and weaving back and forth between Max’s commune past and her newsroom present, How Happy to Be portrays with razor-sharp insight and bittersweet wit a modern woman’s descent into — and eventual escape from — the deafening pop culture noise of the early twenty-first century. Intelligent, savvy, this novel marks the arrival of a remarkable new fiction talent.

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“Pop culture geeks will go nuts for Onstad’s brutal dissection of the life of a media whore. . . . A triumph.”
NOW Magazine

“Katrina Onstad’s How Happy to Be is an acerbic, hilarious and culturally astute page-turner of a debut.”

“Young women will relate profoundly and personally . . . . A working woman’s Nick Hornby, Onstad has created a pithy, poppy text about being adrift.”
Globe and Mail

“Katrina Onstad’s debut novel is wickedly funny, with a biting edge that makes How Happy to Be a must-read for those cold winter nights.”
Weekly Scoop

“A deft meditation on nostalgia, grieving and familial relations. . . .Fresh, compelling and flawless.”
Toronto Star

“[An] ambitious and impressive first novel . . . intelligent and arresting. An auspicious literary debut.”
National Post

“Witty. . . fine writing.”
— Montreal Gazette

How Happy to Be successfully mixes funny and frothy chick-lit scenarios with an ambitious emotional reckoning.”
Fashion Magazine

“Katrina Onstad finds that magic place between fact and fiction and charms the reader with her discovery. A wonderful book.”
—Douglas Coupland

“Katrina Onstad writes poignantly about the failed ideals of one generation and the lack of ideals in this one. From communes to movie stars, this book is an act of redemption, one that is funny, wise and honest.”
—David Layton

“Katrina Onstad offers a sharp, new edge to the Canadian literary landscape. How Happy to Be jumps out at the reader with a hip, ironic voice that offers a poignant mixture of sassy humour and raw exploration of human alienation.”
—Lawrence Hill

About the Author

Katrina Onstad is a film and culture writer for CBC Arts Online and has had her work published internationally. She was formerly the National Post film columnist. Katrina Onstad lives in Toronto.

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and thoughtful - brought tears to my eyes Jan. 3 2006
By A Customer
I didn't know what to expect from this book. I know Onstad's writing from her film criticism, which I like, but I didn't know if she'd do as well at fiction. Well, she does. It's funny and sharp, which wasn't a surprise, but I was surprised at how sad some of it was, and how good she was at creating a mood with her words. I laughed out loud at some parts and became almost tearful at others, which isn't usual for me when reading a book. I look forward to more fiction from her.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I agree with Coupland Jan. 5 2006
By A Customer
I picked this up yesterday because of the comment from Douglas Coupland, one of my favourites. And he was absolutely right. Onstad is a charming writer. I started reading it yesterday afternoon and couldn't put it down. I read until 3am. I really cared about the characters and their decisions.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Not one of my favourites. March 12 2006
I, too, bought this book based on positive reviews, but I guess I'm in the minority here because I did not like it at all. I did not find the writing witty, clever or charming and it was not a struggle to close the book each day. As determined as I was to finish it, is as hard as it was to do so. I feel like returning it and asking for my money back.
I did not find one charming or likable trait about Max and although her relationships with Theo and Sunera were interesting enough, it wasn't enough, in my opinion, to make this book a winner.
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2.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... Nov. 13 2012
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
"How Happy to Be" revolves around Maxine, a Toronto-based entertainment journalist. She has not found satisfaction in her life and alternates between trying to get fired from her job, reminiscing about her eccentric upbringing on the West Coast and seeking to lighten her malaise with regular substance abuse.

The story teems with simplistic assumptions: that our celebrity-driven culture spawns vacuous beings, that, if a woman owns a cat, she must be lonely and desperate, that parents from rural BC display too many oddball tendencies to provide any real guidance to their children.

From the outset, Maxine garners no sympathy from the reader; she represents the vacuity of entertainment journalists. Why, if her newspaper position is so insufferable, does she not simply quit? And, since she professes to hate the entertainment world, why did she take the job in the first place? Throughout, our protagonist blames her dissatisfaction on everything around her, but never on herself. She completely lacks introspection.

The novel does include moments of wit and at times Maxine’s paranoia contains welcome hints of self-deprecation. Ultimately, though, "How Happy to Be" lacks both profundity and a relatable protagonist.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic June 29 2013
By Kate Lyons - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I couldn't put it down. I highly suggest this book to anyone in their mid-twenties crisis, coming out of one, or remembering growing up and trying to navigate jobs, men and life.

I read it in one night, stayed up all night and loved it. You won't be sorry!
4.0 out of 5 stars A very original novel July 17 2010
By Melissa Niksic - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a fantastic book, but unfortunately the story fizzles out a bit near the end. I love the author's snarky narrative and laugh-out-loud sarcasm. However, I thought the book went spiraling off in too many different directions after a while, and the original pop culture themes were abandoned in favor of a more predictable personal crisis. Still, I did enjoy the book a lot, and I hope the author writes another book someday.
5.0 out of 5 stars Best read in a long time!!! Super Summer Read! May 17 2006
By A. C. Knecht - Published on
I stumbled across this book while vacationing in Mexico. I had such a great time reading it. I finished it while spending a weekend with girlfriends and it is now making the rounds. I read parts outloud that had my friends in stitches. A bit Sex in The City...a bit David Sedaris. I highly recommend it!
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