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How Proust Can Change Your Life Paperback – April 28, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0679779155 ISBN-10: 0679779159 Edition: New title

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More from Alain De Botton
Alain De Botton's clear, witty prose brings new life to the study of philosophy and literature. Visit Amazon's Alain De Botton Page.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New title edition (April 28, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679779159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679779155
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This is a genius-level piece of writing that manages to blend literary biography with self-help and tongue-in-cheek with the profound. The quirky, early 1900s French author Marcel Proust acts as the vessel for surprisingly impressive nuggets of wisdom on down-to-earth topics such as why you should never sleep with someone on the first date, how to protect yourself against lower back pain, and how to cope with obnoxious neighbors. Here's proof that our ancestors had just as much insight as the gurus du jour and perhaps a lot more wit. De Botton simultaneously pokes fun at the self-help movement and makes a significant contribution to its archives. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Generally writers fall into one of two camps: those who feel that one can't write without having a firm grasp on Proust, and those who, like Virginia Woolf, are crippled by his influence. De Botton, the author of On Love, The Romantic Movement and Kiss and Tell, obviously falls into the former category. But rather than an endless exegesis on memory, de Botton has chosen to weave Proust's life, work, friends and era into a gently irreverent, tongue-in-cheek self-help book. For example, in the chapter titled "How to Suffer Successfully," de Botton lists poor Proust's many difficulties (asthma, "awkward desires," sensitive skin, a Jewish mother, fear of mice), which is essentially a funny way of telling the reader quite a lot about the man's life. Next he moves on to Proust's little thesis that because we only really think when distressed, we shouldn't worry about striving for happiness so much as "pursuing ways to be properly and productively unhappy." De Botton then cheerily judges various characters of A la recherche against their author's maxims. At the beginning, when de Botton drags his own girlfriend into a tortuous and not terribly successful digression, readers may be skeptical, but they will be won over by his whimsical relation of Proust's lessons?essentially an exhortation to slow down, pay attention and learn from life. Is it profound? No. Does this add something new to Proust scholarship? Probably not. But it's a real pleasure to read someone who treats this sacrosanct subject as something that is still vital and vigorous. 25,000 first printing; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Alain is the author of seven non-fiction books that look at the great questions of ordinary life - love, friendship, work, travel, home - in a way that is intellectually rigorous, therapeutic, amusing and always highly readable. His goal is to bring ideas back to where they belong: at the center of our lives.

Customer Reviews

Alain de Botton's work is uneven.
Albert Rustle
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone wishing either a fun read or a light-hearted intro to Proust.
Robert Moore
An insightful, witty and intelligent book.
Keith Allan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

126 of 130 people found the following review helpful By brassawe on April 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
I have tackled only "Swann's Way" from the seven volumes of Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time," formerly translated as "Remembrance of Things Past." You need not have read Proust to thoroughly enjoy this concise 197-page book in nine chapters. When you finish it, however, you will be seriously contemplating having a go at Proust's masterpiece in its entirety.
Consider the chapter titles. The fourth is "How to Suffer Successfully." The seventh is "How to Open Your Eyes." The eighth is "How to be Happy in Love." The last, and my favorite, is "How to Put Books Down." The author draws on the ideas and characters found in Proust's masterpiece and renders Proust's response to these issues. All of this is very wittily done. The whole thing is leavened with fascinating biographical tidbits concerning this strange, brilliant man, Marcel Proust. In that last chapter Mr. de Botton (apparently a Brit) presents us with Proust's view of books and their proper place in life:
"It is one of the great and wonderful characteristics of good books (which allows us to see the role at once essential yet limited that reading may play in our spiritual lives) that for the author they may be called "Conclusions" but for the reader "Incitements." We feel very strongly that our own wisdom begins where that of the author leaves off, and we would like him to provide us with answers when all he is able to do is provide us with desires . . . . That is the value of reading, and also its inadequacy. To make it into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement. Reading is on the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it.
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140 of 150 people found the following review helpful By darragh o'donoghue on March 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book has been ludicrously dismissed as 'facile' by sniffy snobs. The dismaying fact remains that in this age of overcrowding media vying for our attention, you have to be pretty convincing to make people want to give a large chunk of their lives to a 4000 page novel about sponge cakes, silly aristocrats and sickly fops.
De Botton manages this with ease. His book is an excellent precis of Proustian concerns - time, love, friendship, literature - told in deceptively simple language masking thoroughness and complexity. His aren't the last words on these subjects, they are starting points which allow the virgin reader a map when starting on the vast terrain of A La Recherche.
His own prose is elegant, suggestive and sometimes very funny, while his emphasis on the personal is at the same time endearing, a way into the book, and true to Proust. He fills in his narrative with much biographical, historical and anecdotal matter, drawing on letters, newspapers, memoires, which are both illuminating and entertaining.
His own method is seemingly the opposite of Proust's, immediately lucid and precise, but the form of his book follows the Proustian pattern, whereby the book heading in one direction turns in on itself, becomes a book about itself, its own creation, even negating itself as it tells us to abandon Proust if we want to be true to the spirit of Proust.
The book isn't perfect - sometimes the prose is a little TOO easy; both Proust and De Botton come across as near-saintly figures, full of understanding and kindness, when the truth (with Proust at any rate) is much messier; and the last two chapters are a little rushed. But few books outside the thriller genre have delighted me and kept me reading feverishly to the end like this little trinket.
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120 of 128 people found the following review helpful By Charles S. Houser VINE VOICE on August 13, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book deserves all the praise it has received. It does something I've never been able to do when talking to friends: it articulates the value of reading and studying literature. You don't have to have read IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME to enjoy this book. In fact, de Botton could probably have subsituted Joyce, Faulkner, or Woolf for Proust and produced a similar study. The self-help format seems appropriate (even if sardonically intended). De Botton seems to be directly addressing (and at times challenging) the earnestness of people who turn to books to improve themselves (and who expect books to show them the best way to improve those around them). My favorite chapters were "How to Suffer Successfully" and "How to Be a Good Friend." The final chapter, "How to Put Down Books," should probably be photocopied and stapled to the door of every library and bookstore. I cautions us against bibliolatry.
One tiny gripe. De Botton does not always identify the works he is quoting from. We don't need to know specific page numbers, but it would be nice to know if a quotation is from one of the volumes of IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, or from an essay or letter. In one case, I wasn't sure if the quote was Proust's or Ruskin's.
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52 of 53 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
I can see where this book might rub some people the wrong way. People with an old fashioned dedication to literature probably won't appreciate Alain de Botton's clever re-contextualizing of Proust within the modern genre of self-help. I might feel similarly if de Botton claimed to be writing a real self-help book or a serious examination of Proust, but he never attempts to perform either feat.
Instead, de Botton accomplishes several things. He parodies self-help books, he undertakes a humorous and highly personal exploration of Proust, and he makes a witty argument about how literature can aid us in our daily lives. The heart of de Botton's message is actually paradoxical. From one perspective he is saying, "don't take literature too seriously" and from another he is saying, "literature is a critical tool in everyone's life".
I believe that all of us essentially reinvent what we read and use it to interpret our lives and the world around us. De Botton simply provides a humorous and intelligent blue print of this natural process.
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