Fever Dreams: On Eleanor Davis’s ‘How to Be Happy’
By Adam Boretz
Because of a high fever, ear infection, and generally delicate constitution — my doctor once told me I have the stored protein levels of “a frail elderly woman” — I ended up reading Eleanor Davis’s How to Be Happy twice.
The first time, I burned through about two-thirds of the book, took my temperature — (100.5) — and then had this somewhat confusing yet characteristic text exchange with the Ryan Joe:
Me: Not Yet. But Dion. I have an ear infection because I am seven years old.
Ryan: Shit man. Feel Better! I liked How to Be Happy quite a bit.
Me: I’m halfway through. Not bad. Colorful.
Then I fell asleep. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember anything I read — How to Be Happy was completely erased from my memory. I also have no idea who Dion is.
The second reading — sans fever and mostly sans ear infection — showed me that my initial reaction to the book — “Not bad. Colorful.” — was a massive understatement. And while I read the book a few weeks ago, I find myself still thinking about many of the stories in How to Be Happy.
The pieces that really resonated with me were Davis’s tales of empty, confused people searching — for emotion (“No Tears, No Sorrow”), for love (“Darling, I’ve Realized I don’t Love You”), and for meaning in everything from meditation and children to gluten-free bread:
But my absolute favorite piece in the book spanned just two pages and told the story of a woman who commissioned a famous artist to sculpt a statue of her best self.
I feel like every day I wake up and try desperately to sculpt a version of my best self. And every day I fail. And somehow reading How to Be Happy made me just fine with that. Almost.
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