In modern society, people constantly search for the things that stimulate their senses and imaginations the most. Special effects have become the most important art in filmmaking, athletes’ fame peaks at the moment of their most extreme accomplishments, and the most scandalous news remains in the headlines the longest. In themselves, these trends are understandable and completely human, but what seems sad is the overall downplaying of things like consistency, decency, and the understanding that the most important examples of beauty aren’t superficial. Jan Fowler’s book, Hot Chocolate for Seniors, is a wonderful reminder of these qualities. This assemblage of uplifting anecdotes has little flashiness or shock value, but paradoxically it delivers on its very ambitious goals in a beautifully unassuming fashion.
Hot Chocolate for Seniors is an assemblage of anecdotes, not short stories. The distinctions between the two are that generally speaking, short stories are longer, plot driven, fictitious, and written to convey a complex theme. Fowler’s anecdotes are unpretentious, abbreviated, and contain themes that are quickly accessible to casual readers. While these characteristics separate the book from high literature, they are also the source of some of its greatest strengths.
Fowler’s book can be picked up and put down at basically any increment the reader desires, and sense it is an assemblage of individual stories, months of neglect will not undermine the reading experience. This is one of Hot Chocolate for Seniors’ greatest strengths as a gift item. Normally the biggest problem with giving someone a book is that it is a commitment to sit down and read. As great as The Brothers Karamazov might be, it’s a bit presumptuous to assume the recipient is going to be able to commit a hundred or so hours to actually reading it, especially over an appropriately short period of time. So even though the experience and thematic strength of Hot Chocolate for Seniors does not necessarily build as the reader penetrates deeper into it, the tradeoff is that the style of the book affords the reader extreme flexibility in how they choose to read it. It could be read in one day, gradually of the course of months, or in fifty page spurts over any time period. It doesn’t matter to the reading experience.
As for the easy accessibility of the themes, while this would normally bring up thoughts of obnoxiously familiar sitcom endings, Hot Chocolate for Seniors conveys them with enough originality to bring them back to life. The anecdotes sometimes revolve around images, like burnt toast, or plot lines with uplifting conclusions, but Fowler’s selections always seem to deliver a refreshing new spin on ideas that are normally conveyed clumsily. Love, commitment, intimacy…ideas like these are all but ruined through inarticulate, grandiose overuse, however Hot Chocolate for Seniors replaces these vapid images with specific, commonplace examples that are much more intimate and true to life.
Another strength of Fowler’s selections is the writing. In a manner conforming to their unpretentious imagery and storylines, the writing is admirably unadorned. From time to time the stories do lapse into the use of trite colloquialisms, but this is unavoidable in a book by various authors centered on romance and family values. All things considered, the brevity of the stories combines with the efficiency of the language for one of the cleanest, easiest reading experiences available.
Though hot chocolate is a strong metaphor, a better one would be comparing Fowler’s work to an effective, soothing medicine. If it does its job it’s not a daily necessity, it may occupy a bedside table for weeks without use, and in an ideal world it probably wouldn’t exist at all. But even though it seems neglected it is too valuable to be forgotten, you’re thrilled that you have it when you need it, and it’s a soothing influence that allows you to focus on the important things. Some readers may feel suspicious that such a light read could bear such fruit, but ultimately, actually rather quickly and repeatedly, Hot Chocolate for Seniors delivers on its goal of conveying comfort, perspective and wisdom.