I have been reading more than my school books, which is somehow shocking to me. I read this book in 36 hours.
For any of you who know me, I sometimes take 3 months to read a book - sometimes longer. So, to read a book in 36 hours (for me) is saying something. This book held my attention, made me think deeply and was simultaneously easy and difficult to read. The author, a psychoanalyst in London (though he’s an American), writes well, very clearly and with a slight British lilt that I suppose he picked up along the way.
Here are 10 Things About The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves:
It might be useful to understand psychoanalysis before delving into this book. I only recently learned that psychoanalysis is quite different than, say, Cognitive Behavior Therapy. I thought therapy was therapy, but true psychoanalysis is closer to the Freudian/Jungian approach of allowing a client to free associate and explore his/her unconscious mind vis a vis dream interpretation, analysis, etc. I’m probably botching that explanation, so do look it up. It will help give context to this book.
The Examined Life is only 215 pages, and I’d say that’s a stretch, as many pages are half-pages at the beginning and end of what are pretty short chapters. This book is easy to breeze through.
In the chapter entitled ‘The Bigger the Front,’ Grosz explores the idea of how we deal with things by not dealing with things. I think this chapter is so applicable to modern life, particularly in the face of social media and image as it is presented through this lens.
There is a chapter on envy that has pretty fundamentally changed my perspective on how some people behave; that is, how envy infects how we treat other people, particularly if we’re treating them badly, complaining about them or distancing ourselves from them. I saw some of myself here, and it wasn’t the loveliest likening I’ve ever had. But I learned that I envy my children’s lives because they have what I wish I’d had, and there is a part of me that wants them to see that and appreciate it. In their inability to do that (which is probably normal, given their lack of perspective), I feel envious and resentful. I know. I’m just the mother you dream of, no?
One of the things I like most about this book is an over-arching feeling or sentiment I got that our struggles or hardship or persons don't need to necessarily be changed. There isn’t always a major overhaul. We don’t always need to reverse course. Sometimes we must only accept, acknowledge or understand. Those are actually taking action, which is hard for those of us who think action must be externally monumental to ‘count.’
I find this sentence particularly interesting and true: “Anyone can become paranoid - that is, develop an irrational fantasy of being betrayed, mocked, exploited or harmed - but we are more likely to become paranoid if we are insecure, disconnected, alone.” (pg. 82)
In that same vein, I highlighted this sentence: “…paranoid fantasies are disturbing, but they are a defense. They protect us from a more disastrous emotional state - namely, the feeling that no one is concerned about us.” (pg. 83)
The author quotes Freud as saying, “Where they love they do not desire and where they desire they cannot love.” (pg. 103) I mean…is it me or does this provoke thought?
I saw myself in several of the chapters and the experiences Grosz discusses, most of which are re-tellings of his clients’ stories. It is nice, even if one sees oneself in a less-than-lovely light, to know we are all human and our experiences are more shared than we realize.
There are complaints on Amazon that this book leaves readers hanging. I don’t fully understand that complaint, as I never felt Grosz did that. We don’t find out what happens to the clients, the end result (a few times we do), but I didn’t feel that was the point of the book. Grosz explores certain themes (love, loss, change, lying) through stories of his clients and himself. That we don’t follow the client to the ‘end’ of his therapy isn’t problematic for me.
I’m not sure how I’d classify this book. It’s a mix of psychology in the form of essays or storytelling, but I suppose some people would call it self-help perhaps? For me, it’s just essays about psychological themes and experiences we all have and share. I don’t know that it needs more definition than that?
I definitely suggest reading it, and I’d love to hear what anyone things.
I’m giving it a 4/5 stars.
I hope the day has been wonderful so far. I feel a bit of a cold coming on (and a cold sore to accompany it), so I’ll be retiring to my bedroom for a bit of rest here in a bit.