A Theory of Everything Else by Laura Pedersen
Published by She Writes Press ISBN 9781631527371
Trade paperback, $16.95, 305 pages
One of the funniest books I ever read was Laura Pedersen's Buffalo Gal, about her growing up in 1970's Buffalo, NY. I grew up a few hours away in the same time period, and there were so many events and touchstones that I could relate to, especially her stories about lake effect snowstorms. (Now we both live on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. I would love to run into her on the street someday.)
Her newest effort is a book of essays, A Theory of Everything Else, that is both by turns hilarious and philosophical. There are four classes of essays- Quadipeds, Bipeds, Estrogen-Americans, and Human Kind.
Beginning with Quadipeds, we learn about Pedersen's love of all things dog. She jokes about giving her dog a messy bone, and every time he will drag it on to the most expensive oriental rug to chew it on. If the dog is on a bathroom floor and starts heaving, it will immediately jump up on a bed or a "sofa covered in cream-colored silk brocade to vomit." Dog lovers will recognize many of her observations.
She has humorous human observations as well. She noted that today, when bridal parties are preparing their hair and makeup on the big day, it is now a celebration with mimosas being freely poured. Combine this with the dieting that these ladies did to fit into their dresses, and it could be a problem. At one friend's son's wedding, the maid-of-honor began to sway at the altar, and then the bride and bridesmaids each began to fall. Luckily an athletic coach-guest ran to his van, brought back Gatorade, and the ceremony continued on with the bridal party seated in chairs.
Pedersen shares more Buffalo stories, going into how the majestic churches there were built by the church members themselves. They'd go to their factory jobs during the day, went home, ate dinner, then went to build their community's church until ten at night. Her comparisons of the different religions to sports (Buddhism is badminton, Mormons are a marching band, Shakers would be cliff divers) is clever and funny.
I love her chapter on her OCD nurse mom, who once was able to prove (without hidden cameras) that her apartment manager was using her apartment as "love nest" when she was in Florida. Her retirement community apartment was so meticulously organized and maintained that she was able to get a rent reduction because they could use it a model when prospective residents wanted to view a furnished apartment.
As Pedersen gets older, she finds she is more like her parents. For example, when she was younger, her schedule was completely filled every day. Now, she will do only thing per day. If a friend asks her to dinner, and she has an 11 o'clock hair appointment and can't make dinner, her friend will reply "Call me when things calm down." (Oh dear, I think I can relate...)
The latter chapters turn more philosophical. As this is the beginning of Women's History Month, Pedersen delves into the struggle women have historically had to tell their stories, the problems facing women in comedy, and the importance of encouraging girls to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
In the Humankind section, Pedersen talks about the transformative power of art, trying to get home to NYC after 9/11, and how to find The Good Life.
I have always appreciated Laura Pedersen's ability to make to me laugh in her books, and in A Theory of Everything Else, I now also appreciate her ability to make me think about bigger issues. How can you not like a book that makes you laugh and think in equal measure? Laura Pedersen is a treasure.