GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe
- Title: The Examined Life
- Author: Stephen Grosz
- ISBN: 0393349322 (ISBN13: 9780393349320)
- Series: Stand Alone
- Published: Published May 12th 2014 by Random House Canada
- Format: Paperback
- Genre/s: Non-fiction/Pyschology
SYNOPSIS – (From Goodreads)
In his work as a practising psychoanalyst, Stephen Grosz has spent the last twenty-five years uncovering the hidden feelings behind our most baffling behavior. The Examined Life distils more than 50,000 hours of conversation into pure psychological insight without the jargon.
This extraordinary book is about one ordinary process: talking, listening, and understanding. Its aphoristic and elegant stories teach us a new kind of attentiveness. They also unveil a delicate self-portrait of the analyst at work and show how lessons learned in the consulting room can reveal as much to the analyst as to the patient.
These are stories about our everyday lives: they are about the people we love and the lies we tell, the changes we bear and the grief. Ultimately, they show us not only how we lose ourselves but also how we might find ourselves.
Before the preface of psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz’s book The Examined Life, before the table of contents and the dedication, are three pages of praise by professional critics. It is described as “crystal clear and completely magical”, written with “an elegance and poignancy that would make Raymond Carver envious”. The New Yorker compared its short chapters to “minimalist, suspenseful detective stories”. The Sunday Times of Britain stated that “Grosz’s vignettes are so brilliantly put together that they read like pieces of bare, illuminating fiction…Utterly captivating”. It is an international bestseller and an award-winner. On the back cover, The Times called it “brilliant”.
So what did I miss?
This is my thirteenth review for Penny Dreadful and the first time that a book has left me completely uninspired, for better or for worse. I read it cover-to-cover, I took notes like I usually do. I also looked out the cafe window and watched the traffic and I kept checking my phone hoping somebody would text me.
The thirty-one chapters that make up The Examined Life are short anecdotes representative of Grosz’s twenty-five years of practice as a therapist. They are stories of patients with relationship problems, questions of sexuality, difficulties with parenting skills, struggles with love and hate and insecurity and suicidal tendencies. The issues themselves are fascinating, universal and unfortunately commonplace in our twenty-first century world. But at the end of each chapter, I felt I had just read a bunch of words. It was a vacuum, empty and then disappointing. Perhaps the chapters were just so short and presented so simply that there wasn’t enough time for my interest to develop. Maybe the subjects changed so quickly that I couldn’t keep up and so I turned off, an unconscious defence mechanism to help me deal with what felt like a very unsatisfactory situation, what felt like I was failing. The critics loved The Examined Life and selected it as “a best book of 2013”. Could my viewpoint be so far off? Was I oblivious? Or worse, were the book’s themes tweaking some of my own long-repressed insecurities and forcing them to the surface. It started to feel like I was reviewing myself.
And then just now, re-reading these paragraphs, a fascinating irony entered my thoughts. It appears that reviewing The Examined Life has triggered my own self-examination. If this book has caused me to question myself and, in essence, examine my own life, perhaps Stephen Grosz has succeeded. If this is the case, while I may not have enjoyed his book, I certainly now appreciate it.
About the Author
In his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom. His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side. After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia, circumstance led to a career back in Toronto. He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.