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Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Writer's Life 2/16 - Love's Executioner

It's said of works of non-fiction: "it reads like fiction." The reverse is true of Irvin D. Yalom's Love's Executioner & Other Tales of Psychotherapy, and that's praise, not criticism. The prose and dialogue are solid, highly accessible to laymen. The stories are riveting. The author grew up in D.C., the child of immigrant grocers and, despite such humble beginnings, went on to an influential career, teaching group psychotherapy and developing "existential psychotherapy." His writing centers on the four "givens" of the human condition: isolation, meaninglessness, mortality and freedom. He discusses how humans respond to these concerns in either a functional or dysfunctional way. The ten pieces in LE are based on his experiences treating patients. I have no idea how much is fact or fiction, but all are plausible. The one that fascinated me most, 26 pages, concerned a successful neurobiologist terrified about the content of three letters he cannot bring himself to open. The common thread throughout the collection is the fear of death, which at first manifests itself subliminally, and which the patients must bring themselves to face consciously. Yalom does not pretend to be omniscient and he is not pedantic. He tells himself: "Remember, you cannot do all the work. Be content to help a patient realize what must be done, then trust his or her own desire for growth and change." He fights to maintain patience, and reveals his own prejudices, which humanizes him. The title piece, the longest at 55 pages, refers to the case of an elderly married woman obsessed with a brief fling she had with a former therapist 30 years her junior. Most of the stories are at least 15 pages. One is only eight. Published in 1989, LE is still being discovered, at last check ranked 423,711 overall at Amazon, where more than 13 million books are listed. 307 users have rated it, forging to a consensus of 4.7 of five, a little higher than I would go. Yalon has had nine works of fiction published, six non. There are two documentaries based on his work. Only one of his novels, When Nietzsche Wept (2007), has been adapted to film. Although it did not receive good reviews, I added it to my list at Netflix. Love's Executioner... is geared to those fascinated by what lies below the surface of humans. I was fortunate to have come across it. Although my bugaboos are unlike those of anyone in the book, I related to the struggles of most of the characters.

Former MLB Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito is flourishing in his new career. His EP, No Secrets, is #15 on the Americana/Folk Album chart, and #39 on the Country Album chart. Kudos.

Here are poll numbers that reflect the political turmoil of the USA: Rasmussen Reports shows that 52% of voters approve of the job Trump is doing, 48% disapprove. The Gallup daily tracking poll finds 40% approve, 55% disapprove. Reuters, in its most recent update, had it 50-47.2%. In my mind, polls will be meaningless until a year or so has passed. (From

No luck selling books on the street today. Back at it tomorrow.
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