Book review: How to Love


If your older, wiser self could go back and share its vast (we hope) repository of accumulated knowledge with your younger, naïve self, would the little bastard listen, or tell you to take a hike, old man? Would a headstrong, foolhardy you be able to take the advice of anyone else and see it for the useful, possible shortcut that it was, much less apply it sensibly and methodically?

I tend to doubt that young Gordon Livingston, future author of How to Love, one of the smartest, slimmest, most comprehensive books I've ever read on how to live (because come on, that's what the love thing is about, really), was ever very much in need of the book he would someday write. A decorated veteran who served both in the infantry and as a surgeon, he stood up in protest against a war (Vietnam) he could not support, returned to school once again to study psychiatry, and started a practice which he's still at today (not sure if I'll still be doing consulting work if and when I write three massive bestselling books).

The principles in How to Love are less revelatory than the way in which they're presented, which is to say in a rich, dense, savory prose that defies the kind of skimming many of us have adopted for the consuming of regular self-help tomes. This is a compact and intense book, like a truffle, or a really class-A boullion cube, so much so that you have to eat it slowly to get every last tasty bit.

It's so smart and so well-done, I wondered as I read it whom exactly it was written for. Ostensibly, it's for the young seeker at the beginning of her journey, chock full of tales and wisdom to help her pick her way through the minefield of human relationships, but projecting myself backwards, I find it difficult to believe that some sweet, crazy young thing at the mercy of raging hormones and a twisted culture as crucible is going to mine the gold from this sucker. A chapter towards the end exhorting his fellow relatively-sane oldsters to push for better education in the art of living (and loving, because they're the same thing) leads me to believe that it's really written for those of us toward the end of the game, that we might be reminded of the perils faced by those at the beginning, and thus be moved to do something to break the cycle.

Still, it's a wonderful, wonderful distillation of what is good and what is...not so much. Who among us couldn't use a little bit of reminding, no matter how little time there is left to make use of it ourselves?


Image by Anders B. via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.