Monday, May 12, 2008

Drinking a cup o'friendship

kw: book reviews, anthologies, friendship

There is a series of TV and radio ads in which one man visits another who is ailing, and they converse without saying anything intelligible. Men really do have little to say, or little to articulate, about friendship and caring. It probably really is genetic: "guy" genes cancel out "talk about feelings" genes.

So it is no surprise that out of 44 stories, only a handful are by men in A Cup of Comfort for Friends: Stories that celebrate the special people in our lives, edited by Colleen Sell. This is the fifth in the Cup of Comfort series, which along with the Chicken Soup series belong to a recently fashionable genre I call "Emotional Chic". That title isn't meant to be a put-down, but a signal that, while stories and advice about emotional matters have been with us for a long time, the recent emphasis on them will carry on for a while, then return to normality. There is a cycle to such things.

These stories are all touching. I shed a tear or two over many, even over the few that are clearly fictional (I think most are genuine memoirs). Their common theme, more so than that of the title, is "A friend in need is a friend indeed." Though the needs spanned from near-trivial to beyond traumatic, they all represented genuine distress, which was alleviated by friendships, often unlikely ones.

It seems to be true more of friendship than of marriage that "opposites attract." Perhaps the Editor selected her material for this, but many of the stories were of the strongest bonds between opposites: poor with privileged, minority with WASP, a society belle with someone from the "wrong side of the tracks". A few stories celebrated very short-term friendships that made a significant impact, others friends whose daily contact over half a century enriched both lives.

The book was mostly easy reading at a time it was most welcome. I don't always get my best enjoyment from reading heavy science...

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