Friday 11 July 2014

Devouring Books: The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

The Examined Life is another one of those books that cost 99p (Kindle Daily Deals, man), and, from it's description, I thought was worth a read. It's also another one of those books I thought I'd probably never read (or at least not anytime soon), but since the last book I read fitting this description was The First 20 Minutes, which was HI-larious, I thought this was worth a shot. Since I bought it and all...

The Examined Life is ostensibly a collection of case studies Grosz has collected working as a psychoanalyst, but they're also designed so that they can have a wider application to the lives of people who might be reading the book. This means that he'll describe the case specifically, and then make a general point about a state of mind, or coping mechanisms, or whatever the issues might be. I can see how for some people, this book might become a lightbulb moment for issues in their lives, but since it didn't really tell me anything I hadn't already figured out for myself, that's not really what it did for me.

This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy reading it. For me, it was like a little book of zen- filled with tiny reminders about faulty thinking mechanisms that can destroy your state of mind, and the idea that even if things are bad, they can be good again. I am in no way a well trained psychology student (I have an A Level in it, which equates to having studied it for two years) but I know enough to have my doubts about psychoanalysis, or at least about its limits and practical applications, so whenever Grosz brought it back to the parents (which happened A LOT) I rolled my eyes juuuust a little bit.

However. Maybe I'm just being picky, and this book could be genuinely useful and contain new information for most people. Maybe not everyone has read a lot of things about mental health. Here are some quotes for you* to judge the insight for yourselves:
"At one time or another, we all try to silence painful emotions. But when we succeed in feeling nothing, we lose the only means we have of knowing what hurts us, and why."
"We are vehemently faithful to our own view of the world, our story. We want to know what new story we're stepping into before we exit the old one."
"We all have a cheering voice that says 'let us start now, right away,' and an opposing, negative voice that responds 'I would prefer not to.' When we are in the grip of negativity, we lose our appetite for human connection."
"We can take on a catastrophe to stop ourselves feeling and thinking- and to avoid responsibility for our own intimate acts of destruction." 
See, to me, none of these things were particularly earth shattering. They are things I think it's good for me personally to keep in mind, but they're not things I didn't already know. Maybe there are a lot of things in this book that you might not know, but having lived for 20- odd years in this world, you probably do.

However. I did enjoy 'meeting' most of Grosz's patients, and I was really happy for them when, at the end of his essays (and, you know, months of psychoanalysis) they got better and resumed their lives as they wanted to live them. This was all good stuff, and, like I said, it really was a very soothing book to read. It kind of makes you believe that there are no problems so insurmountable that they can't be solved by talking about them, and that there is a little sentence out there that can dissect the things you are feeling, and what you can do about that.

It's not a terrible book, in other words, but it's something that I definitely wouldn't be bothered about reading again. I like my psychology a little bit meatier.

*although really they're just the most relevant ones to me, I think.


  1. This is all probably why it was like a dollar.

    1. You might be right there, madam. But it's a BESTSELLER, Alice. That means it has to be good! (LOL no)

  2. I bought this one in actual paperback a few months ago, because it had pretty much all 5 star reviews on Amazon and was up in the Times non-fiction bestseller list for MONTHS. I definitely think a lot of it will be stuff any self-aware individual has probably already figured out, especially if they have experience of mental health issues or general life difficulties that provoke that kind of self-reflection - but then again, sometimes having it set out in front of you in just the right words can be weirdly motivational compared to swirling it around your own head. I hope I enjoy it anyway, and case studies are usually quite interesting... :)

    1. See above re: Bestsellers hahaha. But seriously, this wasn't AT ALL bad, it was just sort of like 'yes, very good, what else can you tell me?' HOWEVER, that having things set out in front of you thing is very true and this can't be a bad thing. I feel even if it does nothing for a person, it won't actually harm them, so that's pretty cool too!

  3. Those Kindle Dailey Deals. They get ya. I'm glad The First 20 Minutes worked out but this one...meh. I mean yay for it not being horrible and definite yay for it only being a dollar but yeah.