In the spirit of honesty, I read this a few months ago, so it’s more of a “What I Read.” But it is still worth talking about, so the current books can wait a moment.
I don’t read a lot of memoir; I’m primarily a fiction girl. But I also pride myself on being open to anything that looks good, and the premise of Paul Guest’s story was dramatic, to say the least. When he was twelve, he crashed his bike, breaking his neck and irreversibly paralyzing him. The memoir follows his life from that event through college, and a little after, and the more I read, the more I liked and admired the man.
The remarkable thing about this book is that Guest manages to be both honest & serious without falling into the trap of self-pity. There’s a moment, for example, where he talks about an episode of rehab in the hospital. The paralyzed patients had to watch a series of videos explaining how their injuries would affect different systems of the body, and they had come to the inevitable question of sex. For 12-year-old boy, this would have been awkward in the best-case scenario, and there is something almost cruel in making a child watch what amounted to low-grade porn (the video featured a couple demonstrating sex acts that could potentially be an option for paraplegics). Guest acknowledges the futility of the video for most of the audience and the absurd humor of the situation, and strikes an excellent emotional balance. Later, when he wrote about the end of his first adult relationship, I was impressed to see that he didn’t even begin to pull the “she left me because I was a cripple” card. He admits frankly that he was inexperienced at relationships, and tended to say the wrong thing. The reader understands that the injury can easily explain why he may have had less relationship experience than his peers, but you’re left to draw your own conclusions, which is mature, and thoughtful. It makes the book an open communication about life as a paraplegic, rather than a sermon.
All in all, One More Theory About Happiness seeks to show Guest’s life as a whole: the injury, his discovery and pursuit of writing, the process of developing relationships, friendships, independence (yes, even that). It’s thoughtful and funny and sad and refreshing, and if he ever comes to Baltimore for a while, I hope Paul Guest would want to be friends with me.