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Staring at the Sun

Joe Holley

You cannot stare straight into the face of the sun, or death.
La Rochefoucauld

True? I suspect so, not only when we dare scrutinize our own demise but also when we come face to face with the passing of a loved one. Maybe that's what's happening when I'm interviewing a family member for an obituary, and, without really thinking about it, we drift into the present tense.

So it's hard, and yet several well-received books in recent weeks have dared squint at death straight on: "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War," by Drew Gilpin Faust; "Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son's Memoir," David Reiff's rumination about the final days of his mother, Susan Sontag; and a book that takes the 17-century Frenchman's maxim as its title, "Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death," by Irvin D. Yalom.

Yalom, a practicing psychiatrist who writes from the perspective of what he calls "existential psychotherapy," is probably best known for "Love's Executioner," a work of nonfiction, and "When Nietzsche Wept," a novel. A positive review in yesterday's Post prompted me to go out and buy his new book, even though I've been on something of a book-buying binge lately. I'll let you know whether I agree with the Post.

By Joe Holley |  February 25, 2008; 10:02 AM ET  | Category:  Joe Holley
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