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Why Not?: Fifteen Reasons to Live by Ray…
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Why Not?: Fifteen Reasons to Live

by Ray Robertson

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Ray Robertson, whom I know slightly, is a bit of a curmudgeon, which is something I admire and find oddly loveable, especially an humorous, erudite curmudgeon, which Robertson proves himself to be here.

Shortly after completing his sixth novel, Robertson suffered a relapse of his obsessive-compulsive disorder and a serious depression. He recovered, thank heaven, and part of that recovery and its aftermath was his occupation with answering, to his own satisfaction, why someone should keep on living. This book is the result -- fifteen essays, each on something that merits one's next breath.

In Robertson's wonderfully cheeky, cranky, funny and learned style he writes of work, love, intoxication, art, the material world, individuality, humor, meaning, friendship (including canine), solitude, the critical mind, praise, duty, home and, yes, death.

It's true that I don't agree with him on all points -- so let's get this out of the way first -- but perhaps as a recovering alcoholic it is impossible for me to admire drunkenness as a reason to keep living. Quite the opposite, in fact, and his (and Andre Dubus') admiration of the incandescently plastered Richard Yates seems a bit off. It wasn't Yates' writing life that tortured him into an agonized death -- it was the booze. I feel both Robertson and Dubus gloss it. I get annoyed when people romanticize that sort of thing. And then, too, Robertson's rants against Canadian literary prizes and thus-favored writers seems a bit like sour grapes, which is a pity.

Those complaints aside -- and I would love to spend an evening arguing these points, while listening to some of Robertson's impressive record collection (yes, vinyl!) -- I enjoyed this book immensely. I loved being led through Robertson's vast storehouse of philosophical/literary quotes and allusions. He ranges from Seneca to Woolf to Edmund Wilson to John Berryman to Thoreau, to Camus to Flaubert to William Cowper to Susan Ertz . . . and more. I also admire his jazzy and often hilarious riffs on being proudly working class, politics, religion, lots of Nietzsche, marriage and dogs. The passages on friendship of the canine variety moved me deeply. I don't think I've read anything that captures my own experience so well. (Take THAT you fans of schmaltzy "Art of Running in the Rain" books.)

The book is thoughtful and thought-provoking. His reminder that "stolen days are always the best," and by implication ALL days are stolen days, matters. This is a moral writer as well as a clever one and they are rare these days. I wish I had had this book when I was suffering from own Dark Night of the Soul a few years back. I shall remember it for next time. ( )
  Laurenbdavis | May 7, 2012 |
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Robertson's memoir in essay form reflects on what makes humans happy and what makes a life worth living.

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