Review of the Year 2013: Non-Fiction
Games People Play, Eric Berne
I read some excellent novels in 2014, including Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter, Ford Madox Ford’s Some do Not, and Don DeLillo’s Underworld. However, my pick goes to psychiatrist Eric Berne’s classic 1964 study of interpersonal relationships, Games People Play. Berne’s realisation was that even deeply dysfunctional interactions, if they persist, provide some kind of emotional pay-off for both parties involved. One classic example is the wife who constantly complains that her tyrannical husband forbids her from dancing. Her husband dies, and the wife finds she is terrified to step onto a dance floor. Her husband played a key role for her by externalising her own fears. I found this slim volume revealing with regard to my own and others’ lives. The other enjoyable aspect of Berne half a century post-publication is that his case studies take place in a gin-soaked post-war American milieu (he practiced in California), where massive hysteria and neurosis are only kept at bay by new artificial fibres and the industrial production of cocktails. It’s Jung meets Mad Men.
Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece, Michael Gorra
A fantastic study of how to read or have a relationship with the Portrait of a Lady, as well as a kind of memoir or meditation on art. It incorporates discussions on outsiders, connoisseurship, Italy and being gay. Amongst other things.
The Invisible Spirit: A Life of Postwar Scotland 1945-75, Kenneth Roy
Covers a much neglected historical period of the finest country in the world. Murder cases, disasters, conspiracies and controversy, it has them all.
Museum without Walls, Jonathan Meades
A collection of essays which is unabashed in being intelligent. He examines black comedy, high and low culture and every point in between, underpinned with his obsession on place. Essential reading for anybody who feel enthusiastic about cinema.
Noriko Smiling, Adam Mars- Jones
Ever prolific, less than a year since his last novel Mars-Jones produced a meditation on films of Yasujiro Ozu, which is a detailed and wonderful examination of cinema in Japan for the past sixty years, proving it is not as mystical and untouchable as one might imagine.
In Praise of Shadows, Junichiro Tanizaki
This charming meditation on the textures of Japanese art and architecture and the devastating effect on it of electrification approaches modernity with an elemental distrust. Like the silverware that Japanese traditionally allow to tarnish into a rich patina, the essay gains a new depth each year that the world polishes its inventions afresh.