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How Proust Can Change Your Life

How Proust Can Change Your Life

3.6 5
by Alain de Botton, Alain De Botton

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Alain de Botton combines two unlikely genres--literary biography and self-help manual--in the hilarious and unexpectedly practical How Proust Can Change Your Life.

Who would have thought that Marcel Proust, one of the most important writers of our century, could provide us with such a rich source of insight into how best to live life? Proust understood that the


Alain de Botton combines two unlikely genres--literary biography and self-help manual--in the hilarious and unexpectedly practical How Proust Can Change Your Life.

Who would have thought that Marcel Proust, one of the most important writers of our century, could provide us with such a rich source of insight into how best to live life? Proust understood that the essence and value of life was the sum of its everyday parts. As relevant today as they were at the turn of the century, Proust's life and work are transformed here into a no-nonsense guide to, among other things, enjoying your vacation, reviving a relationship, achieving original and unclichéd articulation, being a good host, recognizing love, and understanding why you should never sleep with someone on a first date. It took de Botton to find the inspirational in Proust's essays, letters and fiction and, perhaps even more surprising, to draw out a vivid and clarifying portrait of the master from between the lines of his work.

Here is Proust as we have never seen or read him before: witty, intelligent, pragmatic. He might well change your life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 a la recherch 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.
Library Journal
Here's an antidote for readers paralyzed by the anxiety of influence. Novelist and literary biographer de Botton ("Kiss & Tell", "Picador", 1996) sets out to exorcise the influence of Marcel Proust, using the words of the great French author of "In Search of Lost Time" most engagingly for and against him. In the process, de Botton fashions a hilarious work of authorial self-help. Like Julian Barnes in his Flaubert's Parrot, de Botton knows his author intimately, from what newspaper snippets he would have read each morning to what he and James Joyce said to each other the one time they met ("Non."). In pithy sections, spliced with kitschy photos and plenty of white space, he takes on Proust's personal and writerly idiosyncrasies: the length of his sentences; his loving devotion to minutiae; his elevation of the quotidian; his hypochondria. De Botton might not make us better people (he quotes the perennially miserable Proust on love in a Q-and-A format: "how to be happy in love"), but he will make us more careful readers. For all literature collections. Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
Kirkus Reviews
For the era of the self-help bestseller, novelist de Botton delivers a witty, entertaining literary appreciation of the author of "Remembrance of Things Past."

Can you find real-life lessons in one and a half million words spread over seven volumes, written by a hypochrondriacal asthmatic Frenchman who divided his life almost exclusively between dinner parties and bed rest? De Botton says you can, whether "How to Love Life Today" or "How to Suffer Successfully." De Botton has self-consciously mixed genres in his fiction, e.g., biography and the novel in "Kiss and Tell" (1996), which hinted at his Proust worship. This blend of literary criticism by both de Botton and Proust, snippets from "Remembrance of Things Past", biographic tidbits, and self-improvement pastiches is not as unserious as it appears. Proust, after all, was an almost-epigone of John Ruskin—the embodiment of seriousness about art in one's life—as well as of philosopher Henri Bergson (who goes, thankfully, unremarked). De Botton even turns up a gem of Proust's miscellaneous criticism in an essay on the artist Chardin, whose closely observed paintings of ordinary people and objects Proust recommends as an aesthetic tonic to an imaginary depressed "young man of limited means and artistic tastes." Elsewhere de Botton discusses the hang-ups of Proust's characters Mme. Verdurin and Charles Swann, Proust on love, and the verb "to proustify" ("to express a slightly too conscious attitude of geniality, together with what would vulgarly have been called affectations"). Quoted selectively, Proust himself proves aphoristic—"In reality, every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self."

For a painless crib, de Botton's tongue-in-cheek tract beats out Harold Bloom on the Western canon and David Denby on Great Books without even a madeleine break.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)

Read an Excerpt

Following is an excerpt from Chapter 8, "How to be Happy in Love":

Q: Did Proust have any relevant thoughts on dating? What should one talk about on a first date?

A: Advice is scant. A more fundamental doubt is whether one should accept dinner in the first place.

There is no doubt that a person's charms are less frequently a cause of love than a remark such as: "No, this evening I shan't be free."

If this response proves bewitching, it is because of the connection made...between appreciation and absence. Though a person may be filled with attributes, an incentive is nevertheless required to ensure that a seducer will focus wholeheartedly on these, an incentive which finds perfect form in a dinner rebuff.

Q: Was he against sex before marriage?

A: No, just before love. And not for any starchy reasons, simply because he felt it wasn't a good idea to sleep together when encouraging someone to fall in love was a consideration.

Women who are to some extent resistant, whom one cannot possess at once, whom one does not even know at first whether one will ever possess, are the only interesting ones.

Q: Surely not?

A: Other women may of course be fascinating, the problem is that they risk not seeming so...

Q: Are there any secrets to long-lasting relationships?

A: Infidelity. Not the act itself, but the threat of it. For Proust, an injection of jealousy is the only thing capable of rescuing a relationship ruined by habit...The threat of losing their partner may lead them to realize that they have not appreciated this person adequately...If someone threatens the relationship, they get jealous, wake up for a moment, have another kiss with the horny tusk, and get bored once more. Condensed into a male heterosexual version, the situation runs like this:

Afraid of losing her, we forget all the others. Sure of keeping her, we compare her with the those others whom at once we prefer to her.

Meet the Author

Alain de Botton was born in 1969. He is the author of the novels On Love, The Romantic Movement, and Kiss and Tell; his work has been translated into sixteen languages. He lives in Washington, D.C., and London.

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How Proust can change your Life 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Are you tired of self-help manuals? Is that because the authors often seem to need help themselves? Or they all spout the same buzzwords and clichés? Or they are banal and boring? It sounds as if you are all self-help-manualed-out. Perhaps you need something different. Try Marcel Proust, revered master of exquisite expression and luminous prose. In Search of Lost Time, also called Remembrance of Things Past, Proust¿s one-and-a-quarter-million-word magnum opus, does not contain a trite sentence or conventional thought. You can learn much about living from such a profound genius, including how to spend your time, how to see and feel things, and why, sometimes, it is best just to stay in bed. Alain de Botton is your witty, often hilarious guide, providing valuable life lessons from Proust¿s writings and thoughts. getAbstract finds this ingenious, utterly original treatment thoroughly enjoyable. Wishing you the same.
NY88SN More than 1 year ago
This book was not for me. I never moved passed the first chapter. I may give it another try, but I seriously doubt it. I would not recommend this book unless you heard of Proust and have read his work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MauiJohn More than 1 year ago
I tried, I really did, but I just couldn't get into it. Made it halfway through. I've never read Proust, which I assume is a major prerequisite.