A Brief History of the Smile
Allen & Unwin, $35 pb, 271 pp
Some years ago, at a busy intersection in Chicago, Popeye’s Fried Chicken sported a notice saying, ‘Now Hiring Smiling Faces’. It seemed to cry out for a poem, or at least a memory. If Angus Trumble’s A Brief History of the Smile does not allude to it, this is not for want of curiosity or vivacity on his part.
Trumble’s book comes out of the same stable as Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses (1990), Margaret Visser’s Much Depends on Dinner (1986) and John McPhee’s books on oranges or on the Swiss army. Each of these is marked by skill in apprehending a wide array of information, by a confidence that nothing is intrinsically boring, and by a style that is, variously, calm or spirited. It is as if Robert Burton had been commissioned to write The Anatomy of Melancholy for a couple of issues of The New Yorker and to outpace the cartoons.