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Illinois native writes book reminding us to cling to our happy
Author interview

Illinois native writes book reminding us to cling to our happy

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Growing up in tiny Carterville, Illinois, two hours southeast of St. Louis, Todd Doughty was the kid who loved musical theater. After graduating from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (class of 1995), he and a friend hopped in the car and headed for Broadway.

That dream was short lived. But fortunately, Doughty had a backup, a lifelong passion for books. From a family of voracious readers, including a coal miner grandfather who always took a book with him into the shaft, Doughty had minored in English and earned his way at Waldenbooks during college.

In New York, he worked at the now-defunct chain until a friend who thought he was a natural for publishing recommended him for a publicity assistant job at Random House.

That was 1998. The teen who devoured John Grisham novels now works with the author and many more big names as senior vice president and deputy publisher at Doubleday.

But Tuesday found Doughty on the other side of the book cover — the front. That was publication day for “Little Pieces of Hope: Happy-Making Things in a Difficult World,” written over the last 18 months as an antidote to pandemic gloom.

“For 23 years, I’ve been on the other side of the fence,” Doughty mused from his office in New York, a day after his book hit shelves. “I went in a bookstore, and there it was. That was magical, wonderful.”

Doughty was on the train home on March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic and life as we knew it began to shut down. On the ride, he calmed his nerves by compiling a list of things that bring him joy — as random as “newly sharpened pencils” and “Stephen King’s Twitter” — and “just kept going.”

He posted his lists on Instagram, spending 90 minutes to two hours crafting them most days. Responses were quick and appreciative, but “the idea that the lists could become a book is beyond anything I could have imagined.”

Followers of @toddadoughty on Instagram will find some 50% new material in the book, which also includes his curated, virtual playlists and some short essays. Illustrations are by Josie Portillo.

His thoughts of fall and Halloween feel especially appropriate this month.

“It’s the beginning of my favorite time of year: fall. ... A silent, pivotal change has begun. A new season has arrived. Winter may lie ahead, but it’s the autumn that causes reflection — and transformation.”

A Halloween edition of his happy-making things, one of the “special editions” sprinkled through the book, includes toddlers in superhero costumes, mini-pumpkins and mini-candy bars.

Doughty’s happy-making items range from great art and literature to popular fiction and reality TV. Lin-Manuel Miranda, decreed a national treasure, makes regular appearances. “Things you could do right now” include a suggestion to “clean behind the refrigerator.”

St. Louis happies include the Budweiser Clydesdales, listening to the Cardinals on KMOX and the Stan Musial bridge. He also lists walking around old town St. Charles and “throwed rolls at Lambert’s Cafe in Sikeston.”

Doughty doesn’t expect people to sit down and read “Little Pieces of Hope” as much as to page through and pick those that resonate. He had taken a break from Instagram to finish the book but now will return with even more happy-makers.

Ideas also come from comments, and readers will inevitably come up with their own ideas. Even an interviewer might feel compelled to share a happy story about a squirrel.

The world hasn’t completely righted itself, and some days we might fear that it never will. But Todd Doughty hopes his book will remind everyone to “cling to your little piece of hope as best you can.”

Todd Doughty

When • 7 p.m. Oct. 21

How much • Free


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