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How Proust Can Change Your Life Paperback – April 28, 1998
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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.
Top customer reviews
At only 200 pages, with plenty of illustrations and blank spaces, it's no substitute for reading Proust, and it's not intended as a scholarly monograph. A few found the title deceptive, and were disappointed to discover it is not a self-help book.
If you've read any of de Botton's other books, then you know he's intelligent, informed, cocky, irreverent and witty. Really an entertaining writer. He's also conceited, and probably speaks better French than most of his readers, which is always enraging, and if anyone wants to give him a one-star for that, I can certainly understand it.
If you have a somber veneration for Proust, believe me, de Botton's flippant style is going to make you reach for the anti-acid tablets. Still, there is an absurd side to Proust's life, as Proust himself saw, and to be fair, de Botton reminds the reader, that as in the case of the artist Elstir, it was Proust's whole life, the grotesque as well as the sublime, that brought his art to bloom.
Despite his flashy erudition de Botton makes grammar errors that would have sent Proust to Cabourg for his nerves. After awhile you wonder if the author doesn't purposely salt those in now and then just to give the book "sprezzatura" -- a kind of artistic nonchalance.
I've read Proust, and about Proust, more than I have any author but Dickens, and I still found much I didn't know, lots of it trivia (Proust's phone nunber) but also fresh thoughts and new ways of looking at Proust's life and work. The book is meant to be fun, so take it for what it is. I'm glad I made time to read it.
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.