I’m going to be honest; the last few months of 2015 were pretty shit. For the entirety of the year I’d been dealing with a resurgence of a chronic health issue- by October I was at my wits end. I was angry, defeated and feeling like everything was out to get me. The good things that were happening around me were not enough to balance out the constant bad. When I finished University at the tail end of November 2015, I dove into reading. Books have always been my escape, a sentiment I’m certain I share with many. I didn’t really set up a plan to what I would read and when, I just stood in front of my overflowing bookshelf and waited for something to jump out at me.
My Mum had bought me a copy of David Burton’s How to be Happy some months earlier. Dave is a good friend of my aunt Janet and subsequently became a friend to mum. He’s also done some fantastic editing work for us at For Pity Sake in the past. While looking at my bookshelf feeling completely overwhelmed by what was going on in my life I picked up How to be Happy out of sheer necessity- happiness was something I needed to be re-taught.
Before I even start properly reviewing this amazing book, I have to say straight-up that I could really find nothing to fault. I absolutely loved this novel, it was brilliantly funny- I haven’t laughed out loud while reading in a very long time. It was also so sad that my boyfriend had to make sure I wasn’t dying as I sobbed through the harder parts of David’s amazing story. In the end, How to be Happy gave me everything I had asked it for. It reminded me how happiness is so often tainted with sadness, how sometimes things don’t go to plan. Most of all, I think How to be Happy gave me a sense of clarity, it gave me perspective. What was happening to me last year was bad, but letting it consume and control me will only make it worse. I’m not sure if this was what David intended his readers to think or feel while they read his debut novel, but I think that’s one of the beautiful things about books, they allow everyone to interpret them in a way which resonates with them most. Two people may read the same book and come away with a completely different message, but that’s okay because you’ve taken what you need from that work and let its message, be it unintended or otherwise, effect you in a profound way.
How to be Happy is a memoir of David’s teens to early twenties, and details his experience with family, friends, struggles with sexuality and overwhelming anxiety. The book has this fantastic tone, David starting his novel with:
“I’ve lied to you already. I don’t know how to be happy. Yeah, sorry. Awkward. Okay, let me rephrase. I don’t know how to make you happy.”
David’s voice was an aspect of the novel which I profoundly enjoyed. It was so lovely to read, I felt as I was having David tell me the story himself. It gave me that comfortable feeling of talking with a friend.
I think this tone was really fundamental to the message of this novel. David talks about some really personal experience, and offers an amazing perspective on how to deal with the difficult and often shocking aspects of life. David made his story so personal and beautiful, it was unlike any book I’d ever read before and on closing the final page I was filled with a sense of happiness. If David could make it through his hard times and come out the other end with the ability to reflect on and share his story is such an incredible way, then surely I could to.
The events of David’s teens and early twenties, despite being David’s own experience, were so relatable. The way he discussed his confusion and anxiety was so real that I felt myself there with him through his experiences. When Dave graduates high school, he and his class are asked to attend a ‘seniors retreat’. It’s at this retreat that we really get a glimpse of how incredibly loved and appreciated David is by the people around him. The realisation that he “wasn’t nearly as alone in the world” as he had thought he was is something that really moved me. I think we can often find ourselves thinking the worst, feeling like no one loves us, or worse, that we don’t deserve that love when it’s given. This realisation that David was not as alone as he had thought was incredibly moving.
Through the book we see how David works so hard to make the people around him happy, giving all his support and love to the friends and family around him. It was almost as if David was giving away pieces of himself until he had nothing left to fall back on, sometimes not realising that the people around him were willing to sacrifice as much for him as he was for them. Watching David learn balance and realise the amazing effect he had on those around him, and how important he truly is, was so beautiful.
Dave- if you are reading this blog I just want to thank you so much for writing this incredible book. It was definitely the best thing I read in 2015. At the risk of sounding horribly cheesy, this fantastic memoir has changed my life in a wonderful way. Thank you so much.