How to Die: A Book About Being Alive

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Read an interview with Ray about the book 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Despite the book’s title, Robertson never dwells upon the morbid, maudlin, or excessively sentimental. His footing is grounded in the understanding that a good death results from a life well-lived. Our attitude toward death, says the author, informs the manner in which we live. It is this more affirmative idea to which Robertson returns again and again. Blending autobiography, reflection and engagement with a diverse selection of literary and philosophical luminaries, How to Die is a focused but wide-ranging tour of the mind and the heart . . . He has little truck for thinkers or cultural forces that hide from death or obfuscate its importance. Even when mining the well-trodden and the clichéd, Robertson manages to make them feel refreshed and relevant . . . What especially redeems this book is that, consciously or otherwise, Robertson emulates his own appreciative reading of de Montaigne. He describes de Montaigne’s work as akin to listening in on the unhurried, occasionally meandering, but honest and well-informed thought of a genuine, curious human being. It would be difficult to find a more appropriate encapsulation of How to Die . . . [I]t remains a work that is equally comfortable in the profound and the humorous, while never losing sight of the shared humanity of reader and writer.”

—Winnipeg Free Press

“While How to Die is a slim book, it offers some hefty insights, leavened with frequent, self-effacing humour. There are numerous passages here which, while quick to read (the book is very accessible, despite its philosophical bona fides), nonetheless take hours to fully internalize … Brilliant.”

—Toronto Star

 “Robertson invites us primarily to contemplate our own mortality as a route to a better life: “If we gain a better understanding of what death is, we’ll also know more of what life consists.” Throughout the slim volume, he peregrinates over a great many ideas: a cemetery as “ego corrective,” the metaphysics of monsters, even a spirited, Malthusian argument in favour of life-threatening diseases like cancer (I wonder what he thinks of the coronavirus). He peppers his meditations with anecdotes and choice quotations, from Cicero to Montaigne to Sontag”

Literary Review of Canada