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How Proust Can Change Your Life [Paperback]

Alain De Botton
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 28 1998 Vintage International
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.

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From Amazon

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
First, while I really love this little book, it doesn't quite deliver on the title. Not that the title isn't accurate. Very few fiction writers can actually change one's life, but Proust is one of a very few that can (reading him has very definitely changed mine), but I'm not quite sure that de Botton gets at the reasons why. At least, he didn't get to the specific reasons that Proust has had that effect on my life.
Nonetheless, this remains an amazingly good introduction to Proust, and is a marvelous first-book for anyone contemplating reading Proust's masterpiece. Proust is, of course, the author of what is very widely considered to be the great work of literature of the past century and what is increasingly considered one of the great masterpieces in the history of literature: IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME. de Botton's volume isn't precisely an introduction to Proust so much as a series of reflections on themes that can be illustrated by aspects of Proust's life or by passages in his great novel. Many of these are marvelous at assisting even a veteran reader of Proust to gain new insights into his book.
Is the book worthwhile for someone who does not plan on reading Proust but just wants to read an enjoyable book? Certainly. de Botton is unfailingly witty, almost always interesting, and frequently insightful. None of this relies either upon having read Proust or intending to. The book can certainly stand on its own. Reading this book is fun and easy; reading Proust can be fun at times, but it is also challenging and demanding frequently. But that may be why de Botton's book is unable to show how Proust truly can change your life.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GET THIS BOOK Oct. 31 2003
I read all the time, every day, and this book is fantastic. I've read Proust, but it isn't necessary to have read him to love this book. In fact, this book makes a nice introduction to Proust, and if you wanted to fake having read Proust, this would be an enjoyable way to pick up enough information to do just that :-)
This book is simply one of the loveliest meditations on reading and life, and how they intertwine, that I've ever read. It's not a book for people who don't like to read, but for anyone who DOES like to read, I think it would make a lovely gift. I gave it to myself, and I thanked myself for it very much.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ballsy and cheeky at the same time Feb. 10 2003
The purpose for reading philosophy is twofold: to understand one's nature and to change it for the better. Modern and post modern philosophy is to choked with metaphysical gibberish that unsuccessfully tries to explain one's nature and has no practical purpose. Usually nothing worthwhile can be gleaned from studying modern and post- modern philosophical material.
This book is excellent in a sly way.
Proust's (pronounced Pruest) writing is notoriously lengthy. I have never read any of his work yet. De Botton shows the worth of reading Proust in a modern age where information is instant and usually incomplete. De Botton's reasons are a mix of Bloom's "How to Read and Why" and the realization that Proust is a little to lengthy for the impact of his philosophy to be maximized. "How Proust Can Change Your Life" is half Cliffs Notes and half simplistic self help books like "All I Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten."
De Botton was probably someone who was turned off by the frequency of educators and authors who sucked the life out of the gist of the material. I like the balls and cheekiness of the subjects tackled, but I honestly doubt that anyone who purchases this book would be disinclined to read a lenghthy tome before reading this book anyways. I doubt De Botton is seeking converts who will become comfortable reading authors like Proust. In fact, I think he is saying that Proust's books are a little to long for their own good.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointment: No Mention of Prust in AK Oct. 6 2000
Me and Doris liked this horrible and severe text - but it totally omitted all notion of Proust's hard work in the bush leagues with Alaska's minor leage baseball "Fightin' Eskimos" before he went on to join the Parisian avant guarde of the early 20th C. If you want I can show you a picture of Proust at one of the early Idederod races, but this book is a waste of time if like me your key interest in doctoral studies is Proustian-Alaska biological lies.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A witty combination Feb. 9 2001
By A Customer
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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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn�t do much for me
Sorry but although I persevered and read this through to the bitter end, it just didn't do anything for me.
Published on July 13 2004 by Keith Appleyard
1.0 out of 5 stars Weak and almost insipid
I realize I am in the minority but I thought this book was a very weak extraction of some of Proust's concepts that almost seemed insipid after de Botton removed them from their... Read more
Published on May 23 2003 by C. B Collins Jr.
4.0 out of 5 stars A very informative character analysis
This book was a very interesting treatise on human characters, not to mention Proust himself. Makes a good companion for the novel that it references, In Search of Lost Time if I'm... Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2003 by Bunny Bear
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun and Worthwhile
I just finished reading Swann's Way, and was sure that that would be the beginning and the end of my reading of Proust, at least for now. But then I found this book. Read more
Published on Nov. 17 2002 by Conor O'Sullivan
2.0 out of 5 stars Deceiving Title
I bought this book because of its title. I have always wanted to read "In Search of Lost Time" , but got discouraged because of its length. Read more
Published on Nov. 11 2002 by W. Rashed
4.0 out of 5 stars Successfully Responding to the World...
A specific theme is explored from a variety of perspectives in many of de Botton's books, including ~Proust~, and that is, how to successfully respond to the vagaries of life. Read more
Published on Oct. 24 2002 by C. Middleton
4.0 out of 5 stars Cute to listen to...
A fun little audio-book, provides insight into Proust's life and writings. It did leave me pleased but a little disappointed. Perhaps the printed edition would have been better.
Published on Oct. 16 2002 by toothygrin
2.0 out of 5 stars Impenetrable and maddening
De Botton pays homage to Proust by making his prose almost as impenetrable as the prose of the man he writes about. Read more
Published on Oct. 8 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars How "How Proust Can Change Your Life" Can Change Your Life
Well, it won't on its own, I must warn you silly, avid self-help devotees. I do love the idea of a Frenchman following in the footsteps (or ironically appearing to) of so many... Read more
Published on Aug. 11 2002 by dterkelsen
5.0 out of 5 stars A small masterpiece
This book has a wonderful understated charm. The author's voice is like that of a perfect friend taking you through some issues you always wanted to think about but never quite got... Read more
Published on Feb. 26 2002
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