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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 0679779159 978-0679779155 New title
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
14 of 14 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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9 of 10 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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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Fun and Worthwhile Nov. 17 2002
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. It's written in a tone half-serious and half-tongue in cheek, and manages to be both reverent to Proust and damning of his "reputation" as difficult, dense, overlong, and too damn philosophical to be entertaining. Its breaking up of Proust's great (and his trivial) themes into easy-to-handle morsels and "morals" is frequently hilarious and always pointed and accurate. (The last sentence in particular made sense to me, having just spent 2 hours struggling to read the last 40 pages of Swann's Way...)
But the greatest praise I can give this book is that, because of it, I am going to buy In a Budding Grove this weekend. Great stuff, highly recommended, especially for those unsure if they wish to read more than one volume of Proust. (It may be a little less appreciated by those who have never read any Proust, but it is still entertaining and may convince you to pick up the book itself.)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Successfully Responding to the World... Oct. 24 2002
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. These vagaries and pre-occupations include the pursuit of love, happiness and, most importantly, how to make use of suffering, how to learn from the inevitable pain that this life will bring to some. However, what is it that makes de Botton's advice more palatable than the common spewing from your garden-variety self-help manual? Apart from his user-friendly writing style, it's his approach, his unique way of interpreting great works of philosophy and literature, and re-moulding age-old notions into workable methods of application to the personal and everyday.
The key, I believe, to fully appreciating what this particular text has to offer, is to understand Proust's various responses to the world - what I like to call his inner-worldliness. It is well known, of course, that Proust was not a 'worldly' man in the common sense of the term, but worldly in that vast terrain known as the imagination. In fact, this gentle and fragile writer, most of his short life, rarely stepped out of his bedroom, let alone transverse the expanses of Europe. Proust's gift was the uncanny ability to observe something as apparently mundane as a pocket watch or a scrap of bed linen, and through a mental process of rich association, create new and meaningful experiences. What Proust taught us through his voluminous works, which de Botton points out, is what we all too often take for granted, ironically, has the potential to give us what we need.
~How Proust can Change your Life~ is one of those texts that you can pick up after lunch and finish before dinner, yet the contents and practical wisdom should remain with you for a long time.
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars ballsy and cheeky at the same time
The purpose for reading philosophy is twofold: to understand one's nature and to change it for the better. Read more
Published on Feb. 10 2003 by A. M. Rosencrants
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 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 TLD
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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