Do we really need another book on gratitude and why someone is thankful for things, memories, self-discovery or happiness? Todd Aaron Jensen says we do, and I’m actually inclined to agree with him.
Jensen, who grew up and still lives in Burbank, is an award-winning freelance journalist who has been featured in more than 100 publications worldwide. “On Gratitude,” which just hit stores Sept. 21, is his first full-length book. Well, its actual title is “On Gratitude: Sheryl Crow, Jeff Bridges, Alicia Keys, Daryl Hall, Ray Bradbury, Anna Kendrick, B.B. King, Elmore Leonard, Deepak Chopra, and 42 More Celebrities Share What They’re Most Thankful For,” but my editor only allows me so many words.
“On Gratitude” is a collection of surprisingly fun interviews between Jensen and Crow, Bridges, Keys, etc., focusing on the things that they are most thankful for in their lives. And it isn’t all fame, fortune and glory, either. Actress Kristen Bell, whose interview opens the book, is thankful for Stephen Sondheim and her time spent volunteering in Brazil. Bestselling author Dean Koontz is thankful for his wife and his dogs. NBA star Yao Ming is thankful for his teammates and World of Warcraft. The book contains a highly mixed bag of responses.
However, what’s most astonishing about Jensen’s book isn’t what each celebrity is grateful for — or that he was even able to wrangle so many interviews at all — but how open and inviting each celebrity seems to be. Not only does “On Gratitude” present the humble, down-to-earth sides of each person interviewed, in many cases, Jensen was able to get his subjects talking about highly personal moments in their lives, moments that shaped who they would become.
The book is a compilation of mini-biographies, a series of sneak previews into the lives of favorite stars. Roger Ebert, Ricky Gervais, Anne Rice and Ringo Starr are all included, as well as my personal favorite — Daryl Hall. (There’s an Oates as well, but Joyce Carol, not John.) More than that, though, it’s a truly uplifting book, inspiring readers to live their lives to the utmost every single day. It’s positive but not preachy; insightful but not belligerent. Jensen never forces the reader to get excited about his or her life. Who would want that? Instead, he gives example after example of how positive thinking helped these other guys, people who are well-known and appreciated in their respective fields.
Just reading a handful of these interviews is sure to brighten your day. Jensen is an extremely polished and talented writer, but he’s also smart enough to step aside and let his subjects speak for themselves. In “On Gratitude,” he presents the world with a joyful experience free of gimmicks, mottos or unrealistic goals. If this is what his debut book looks like, you can be sure to expect great things from Jensen in the future.
Brian McGackin is an alumnus of USC’s graduate creative writing program, where he focused on poetry and literary critical analysis.
Who: Journalist and Burbank resident Todd Aaron Jensen
What: His debut book, “On Gratitude: Sheryl Crow, Jeff Bridges, Alicia Keys, Daryl Hall, Ray Bradbury, Anna Kendrick, B.B. King, Elmore Leonard, Deepak Chopra, and 42 More Celebrities Share What They’re Most Thankful For,” Adams Media, 240 pages
Where: Available for purchase through major online book sellers
Cost: Paperback $14.95