Happiness is a Selfish Book

My legs are a ridiculous size today. Quite massive. They are heavy, cumbersome and they turn the most simple tasks, like getting in and out of my wheelchair, into an advanced resistance training workout. I haven’t been able to get advice as to why I developed lymphedema about 4 years ago. Nobody really knows. I only know it’s a development I could do without.

I have ulcers on both feet. I’ll be lucky to get them healed before Christmas. That my legs and feet are twice the size they ought to be is not ideal for healing. Oh, woe is me!

As long as I don’t get an infection I’m not too worried. There is a solution, albeit a short-term one. I have to keep my legs raised to reduce the swelling. It seems to me to be a very good reason to put my feet up and lie back, either on my recliner or sun lounger, and read.

I have a complicated relationship with books. I am not a voracious reader. It’s not that I don’t want to read. I would like to spend the rest of my life reading and writing. I am in a position to do so. I enjoy it more than almost anything. Listening to music is its only competition. With all of the time I’ve had on my hands in the last 10 or so years I should be very well read and yet I read sporadically, at best.

So why is it such a struggle for me to get comfy with a good book? I had a counsellor try and tackle that question with me quite recently. When I told her that I was more likely to stare into space for disturbingly long periods than to pick up one of the many unread books on my shelves and that reading was what I wanted to do more than anything her response was:

‘What’s stopping you from being happy?’

That’s the last time I went. I can’t be doing with such clichéd enquiries. At any rate, I want to be happy and there is nothing stopping me. Ok, it’s not at the top of my list of priorities. It’s on the list though.

I actually do have a good grasp on why I find it such a struggle to read. When I was 13 I had spinal surgery that put me in hospital for many months as a result of secondary complications, namely a life threatening infection.

I went into hospital for spinal surgery when I was in my first year of high school. I was at my new school for, I think, about two weeks before I had to leave for Auckland Starship Hospital. It was a good two years before I was properly physically healed.

Less than a year later I was back in hospital for the removal of the titanium rods that had been wired to my spine to correct scoliosis and to keep my spinal fusion stable while it was healing. The infection was persistent. It was the only solution.

Before I went into hospital I was an avid reader. I loved books. By the age of 10 I was reading at an adult level. By the time I came out of hospital I could no longer concentrate on anything longer than a short story. Even that was a struggle. The trauma of everything I had gone through had such an effect on me that I could not read a page in a book without reading it again and again so that it would finally stay in my poor brain. I lost all interest in reading as a result.

I was going through my first existential crisis and I was still a kid. I was depressed and desperate. I didn’t understand what was going on. I wouldn’t make the connection back to the trauma I had suffered for many years after my physical scars had faded.

I’m 33 now and my ability to get through a book is still severely impeded by an inability to concentrate. I have my love of reading back though, which I am so grateful for. It’s a slow process and I’m not sure I’m ever going to be able to plough through books like I did in my carefree preteen days but I am finding authors now that are feeding my appetite for words.

Will Self was my gateway drug into properly good writing. Given my inability to concentrate, most of what I had read before I discovered Self couldn’t exactly be called literature.

He has piqued my interest in the English language and in playing with words for the sheer fun of it. He’s not everybody’s favourite brew but he has a delicious sense of humour and his writing has a very dark side, both appealing characteristics.

Peter Cook is my favourite comedian by a country mile so it makes sense that Will Self would be my favourite author. Their work isn’t similar in style but it shares an extraordinary talent for biting satire, often frighteningly accurate, and a penchant for the absurd. They both have a subversive sensibility, too.

These legs aren’t going to go down on their own. I’ve been meaning to read Will Self’s Umbrella all year, a book that was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. It’s sitting on my shelf with only the first page digested. It intimidates me with all of its unread Man Booker prize shortlisted pages. I can’t wait for the day I finally pick it up and start reading it in earnest. Maybe I should start today. It’s going to take quite a while to get through. I still have to read every page at least twice. It would make me very happy to finish it, so I had better start it. After all, there is nothing stopping me from being happy.

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