Sunday, October 22, 2017

"Becoming Myself", a memoir by Irvin Yalom

Irvin Yalom's look at his own life and legacy was published this month.  It is a rewarding book to read.  He is the author of numerous books, novels like "When Nietzsche Wept"(a favorite), "The Spinoza Problem", and "The Schopenhauer Cure" that are intriguing and thought provoking intellectual thrillers, and other books of essays about working with his patients(all disguised) such as "Love's Executioner", "Creatures of a Day", and "Lying on the Couch"(his pun intended).

At 85 now, the psychiatrist Yalom has enormous perspective on the development of therapy and various approaches.  His approach is best read about in his books, this one will do, but broadly speaking his is a humanistic approach where the psychiatrist interacts to some extent with personal thoughts.  His insights are based not only on psychological theory but also on his knowledge of literature and history.

The first half of the book describes Yalom's years of development, as a son of first generation immigrant Russian Jews  growing up in a rough neighborhood of Washington D.C. where his parents had a small grocery store that evolved into a liquor store, the most profitable product in the area but also the riskiest to sell from a safety point of view.  Yalom grew up in an apartment over the store.  From his early years he wanted to be a doctor.  The purpose of this comment is not to retell the book, but this story of his early life is compelling.  As many may know, Yalom eventually became a famed psychiatrist at Stanford Medical School while always maintaining a private practice, to this day.

The last parts of the book delve more into his theories of therapy, some of which are familiar from previous books.  This book can be recommended to anyone as its reach is broad.  It was interesting here relating the love of Hawaii and Paris by he and his wife, and the significant time spent in both places.  Kathy and I have been on that page.  He mentions Vazelay as one of the most beautiful, even spiritual, small towns in France, again an experience we had.  Another was a drive that and his wife had around Crete on a vacation, again familiar.  But those are just identification points here and other readers will have their own ways of relating to the travels and experiences of Yalom and his beloved wife Marilyn, still with him.

These days I have stopped sending books to friends and acquaintances for the most part, as it began to seem maybe a bit arrogant to choose books for others.  I am considering changing that practice for this one book as it is not likely to be widely publicized and I have no idea who reads these musings regularly.  We'll see. 

Postscript:   In the chapter "Searching for a Mentor", Yalom writes, "Creating yourself is a source of great pride, but it also leads to a feeling of having no foundations."   A thought noted.


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