Soon after completing his sixth novel during the summer of 2007, Ray Robertson suffered from a depression of suicidal intensity. A year later, after physically and mentally recovering, he found he’d been provided with a rare opportunity: to write a book exploring from a uniquely advantageous perspective two of life’s most central and enduring questions: what makes human beings happy? What makes life worth living?
In the tradition of Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, and The Art of Travel — books of essays in which the author’s own experiences and ideas are elegantly interwoven with those of various artists, philosophers, and thinkers — Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live is a thoughtful and searching yet always witty and entertaining book-length exploration of life’s central and enduring question: What makes life worth living?
After beginning with an introduction that both revisits his crippling depression and briefly delineates the task at hand of offering a sustained, if informal argument in favour of existence, Robertson goes on to devote a single chapter to each of the reasons he eventually arrived at by way of his crisis of faith to not only live, but, in fact, embrace life: 1. Work; 2. Love; 3. Intoxication; 4. Art 5. The Material World; 6. Individuality; 7. Humour; 8. Meaning; 9. Friendship; 10. Solitude; 11. The Critical Mind; 12. Praise; 13. Duty; 14. Home; and 15. Death.
Robertson uses both autobiographical incident and the rich written reserve that is Western art and philosophy to locate the logical and emotional sources for a deeper, more profound understanding and appreciation of human existence.
Written with his characteristic stylistic verve and ribald sense of humour, Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live is a wonderfully engaging collection of essays in praise of such perennial human pleasures as art, love, solitude, and intoxication in which Robertson’s own experiences and ideas are elegantly interwoven with those of various artists, philosophers, and thinkers. The result is a book that is not only absorbing and enlightening, but amusing and enlivening as well.
Why Not? was selected for the Hillary Weston Writers Trust short list and was on the Globe and Mail Top 100 Books of 2011.
Praise for Why Not
These thoughtful meditations on the big questions of life (and death) [are often] poignant and wise. Readers will not doubt their authenticity.
–The Globe and Mail
Robertson’s forte is analysis that pairs pop and high culture, the contemporary and the classic, the mainstream and the academic. And these segues from highbrow to lowbrow are always smooth, and nicely buttress his arguments. The result is a learned, clear-sighted and occasionally funny collection of essays on why, in spite of all the negatives life throws at us, we should soldier on.
Maybe the highest compliment payable to this collection of essays is that they achieve what they set out to do: They’re highly persuasive that living is the only smart thing to do.
The essays are both playful and profound, laced with insight from thinkers across a range of disciplines, from music to history, politics to literature, high to low culture. Why Not? is intentionally provocative, stirring readers to vehemently agree or disagree. But this is Robertson’s point: to be stirred at all, regardless.
Why Not is, in a sense, a practical application of philosophy, but that’s not to say he made any sacrifices stylistically. Straightforward and never shy, the reader feels welcome and respected as Robertson plays the role of earnest life professor.
…heartfelt, funny, rigorous, practical without ever being preachy. Robertson has the born essayist’s way with an aphorism (“There’s no age more conformist than youth”), and his catholic range is contagious: when he pulls in Lord Byron and Jimmie Rodgers as back-to-back sources, he not only evinces no strain, he makes you think of a romantic poet and a yodelling country singer as natural soul brothers..
Robertson…proves that the success of a writer is through the universality of what is being said as he masterfully spans a select collection of quotes over fifteen topics in favour of living life through its struggles and its seemingly impossible hurdles.
Never, ever boring, within the wild trajectory of each piece, Robertson backtracks, repeats himself, changes his mind and displays his characteristic ribald humour. Why Not? is intentionally provocative, stirring readers to vehemently agree or disagree. But this is Robertson’s point: to be stirred at all, regardless.