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One More Theory About Happiness: A Memoir Hardcover – May 4, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Paralyzed in an accident at age 12, poet Guest (My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge) skips the maudlin and the sentimental in this simply-told story of growing up and finding success despite tremendous obstacles. With a poet's economy and grace, Guest narrates his journey from accident and diagnosis (a "severely" bruised spinal cord, "overwhelming" chances he won't walk again) to surgery and physical therapy, to high school, college and graduate school navigated via "sip and puff" wheelchair. Along the way he provides grateful commentary on the standard trials of growing up, including dating and finding his calling, as well as his experiences publishing his first book of poems, Exit Interview. Hopeful but refreshingly direct, Guest's memoir is not simply an inspirational account of overcoming disability, but an insightful, vivid account of an outsider finding his place.
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“Guest’s poems combine furious rage with furious excitement in long, breathless lines that, at the last possible moment, break.” (New York Review of Books)
“Guest writes more directly than ever before about his paralysis.... Guest’s work, which cannot redeem his brokenness or ours...makes something beautiful out of it. And that is enough.” (New York Times Book Review)
“[Guest] tells his story in short scenes that break to white space before they might prompt pity. He zigzags before we might hold him up as an example, a symbol...His memoir voice is gentle and matter-of-fact. His details are astounding and unforgettable.” (Dallas Morning News)
“Guest remembers; gently, carefully, painfully, each new milestone from the accident forward. He is blessed with a sharp sense of humor...it is an effervescent book: irrepressible, buoyant.” (Los Angeles Times)
“Never mawkish or grim, Guest’s lyrical narrative ability tempers the heft of his experience, but the tender age at which he endured this grueling ordeal resonates on every page. Inspiring and courageous.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“I read this book in one sitting....Heartbreakingly funny, pitilessly honest, [this] is above all a quiet and bold and loving work of art that renders beautifully what it means to live. You must read this book.” (Bret Lott, #1 New York Times bestselling author)
“Sweet and beautiful and wrenching. By so generously providing a window into his own difficult experience, Guest shows us how profoundly fragile the human body truly is, how quickly our lives can be changed forever...and most importantly, how it’s possible to create a new definition of wholeness.” (Said Sayrafiezadeh, author of WHEN SKATEBOARDS WILL BE FREE)
“[An] unbelievable story...[about] an unthinkable situation, a deep level of hell, really. Guest is never self-pitying, never gets sentimental; this is not feel good tripe, or inspirational; it is deeper and more important than that—smart and honest and clear eyed and above all, humane.” (Charles Bock, bestselling author of BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN)
“Lean, arresting . . . With zero gush and sentiment, [Guest] conveys [a] quiet heroism . . . Guest is an unconventional and provocative observer of himself. And of us, the ‘able-bodied.’ ” (USA Today)
“Far from a saccharine ‘triumph of the human spirit,’ Guest’s memoir is marked by his winning humor and bare-naked honesty, distilled into poetic prose....alert[s] us to the amazing ability of the human body and mind to reconcile with an unbearable reality.” (NPR.org)
“[A] tightly written, candid memoir...[Guest] unearths a poet’s faculty for succinct, smart description, narrating his own life in this memoir as a surprisingly dispassionate observer.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
“[A] graceful and unflinching account....a remarkable journey that Guest, who possesses a dark sense of the absurd and an eye for the vulnerability of both the injured and the whole, presents in scenes that run the gamut from the horrific to the sublime.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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Top customer reviews
Concrete timelines traditionally tied to prose with a beginning, middle, and end are lost in the chaotic flow of experience. Guest does not provide us a story, he provides an experience seared with his titillating talent for just the right adjective, verb, or noun to engender the feeling, the impression, the now of his thoughts. A cacophony or a symphony of sound, sight and emotion.
I expected more pages, but found the two hour read strangely comforting for its emotional weight. He does not bog us down in soliloquy about the tragedy of the accident for himself, but tells us simply I was, I am, I am yet to be. Camus would commend Guest's unsentimental portrayal of the absurd human condition with Guest's own forward momentum despite success or failure. Guest becomes a Sisyphus whose rock becomes words continually sought no matter the resulting tide of accolades for his work or in some cases disdain for it .
We see how uncomfortable we make him with our perceptions and we squeak in our own skin as we read between the lines that the subject beneath our microscope is sentient and savvy; he knows and somehow loves us for our failings less obvious because they are not visible to the naked eye, only to the open heart. The reader's guilt is amplified by the calm and matter of fact author's voice. The intensity of Guest's poetic nature is tempered by the calm way in which he uses the witnessed grief of others to compare his own inability to grieve.
A good read, and an important one in understanding that at the end of the day a physical disability and an emotional disability have equal repercussions to human interaction. The silver chair is not what limits us, it is only the perceptions of others that we allow to limit ourselves that do, in truth, limit us. As he grows to understand his own extraordinary ability for language, society's language of control and expectations loses meaning, until only his need to say what needs saying remains and he is free in spirit from society's struggle to make him sit nicely in his chair and be lauded for his courage. Instead, he gives us reason to laud him for his own gifts garnered through the same struggles as everyone else. He falters as all humans do through the discovery of self through disappointment, failure and at last, love. Beautiful, unapologetic, and mostly perfect.
One example is an interchange between him and his mother, as she is struggling with fatigue in the middle of the night to tend to his soiled bed:
"Oh, Mother," I whispered near the last. "Am I a burden? I don't want to be a burden."
She snapped awake, stopping for the moment.
"A burden? No, how could you be? How could you be? Don't ever think that."
This incident captures with strength and tenderness the mixture of emotions both mother and child feel. He feels a combination of fear, hopeless gratitude, regret at his physically diminished self, and the pain of helplessness. She feels deep physical tiredness, stretched beyond her powers, performing the task in a fog, until a call is made on her emotions. At that point her love, already expressed in half-automatic actions, flows in fully deliberate words.
Guest accomplishes this with words like the "oh" before "mother", with "whispered", "near the last", "snapped". The whole passage is his expression of love to his mother.