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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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on June 26, 2003
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. Proust has a way of sucking you deep into his book, making you so much a part of it that you feel almost that it is you and not the narrator from whom all these feelings and emotions arise. You almost become a part of the novel, and your life can change because Proust can create a story that becomes a mirror to your own life, instilling a sense of the things we ought to have done but didn't, but providing the revelation that it isn't too late. Proust can also show how all the failures of the past can become the material for future success and accomplishment. de Botton hints at some of this, and even quotes some key passages that in the context of the novel most eloquently display this (cf. the Elstir speech on p. 67, which I believe displays the central theme of the entire novel better than any other passage in Proust).
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone wishing either a fun read or a light-hearted intro to Proust. But even more I recommend reading Proust. Only in doing that can one actually discover how Proust can change one's life.
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on October 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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on July 12, 2015
Bette "How deBotton can change Proust and you, dear Reader". This book opened my eyes to 1) how we lose time (while meaning to gain it) and 2) how we might attempt once more to read and appreciate Proust's "In Search of Lost Times".
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on February 9, 2001
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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on November 5, 2001
I will start out by saying I'm somewhat biased towrd the subject matter as proust is one of my favorite writers - 'philosophers' (peut -etre ?). Nontheless, compliments do no justice to this excellent book. It is possible to read it in a weekend, on a beach or in the library, yet the wisdom it contains will last a lifetime. As it examines peculiarites of Proust's life and character, as well as his famous novel "In Search of Lost Time", De Botton distills the contents of the seven volumes to provide valuable advice on friendship, love, money, work and ultimately how to live a better life. Ulike self help books, "How Proust Can Change your Life" does not ask you to make lists of things to do, change your personality or tell you that "if you can see it you can be it". Nor will you find quick solutions to complex issues like personal change and many of the associated buzzwords of most intellectually insulting guides like 'proactive', 'multitask', 'lifestyle' or even 'successful'. It will not tell you how to become rich. It merely asks you to examine and think about your life so that you may understand yourself better. It also shows how paying attention to minor details is the key to appreciating others, ourselves and the world. It is simply an excellent book. Unfortunately, too few will read it, but those few will have a rare privilege.
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on September 21, 2000
Alain de Botton has done what many may believe to be impossible-- he has found a lucrative use for philosophy. Okay, maybe he isn't the first one, but he certainly has done a good job of it. His style of prose is addictive-- de Botton is witty and light while still maintaining a level of profundity and intellect. The book certainly does not read like an academic monologue, but one comes away from it with something of the feeling of having partaken in something intellectual and educational. In addition, the pictures and drawings that pepper the pages will often make you smile. I came to it without previous knowledge of Proust; nevertheless I was able to appreciate it quite a bit. (At times I longed for footnotes so that I could pursue a deeper study of Proust, but it isn't that sort of book). Beginning with "How to love life today" and ending with "How to put books down," de Botton does an excellent job of relating the work of Proust to our everyday lives. De Botton has an instinct for understanding human behavior and enjoys deconstructing it with the tools of philosophy. Read it and enjoy; reflect on the content, and it might well do some good.
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on June 29, 1997
This is another one of Botton's fine contributions to contemporary writing--a combination work of literary criticism and practical study of Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Having recently completed the first volume of Proust's novel, this book gave me a deeper insight into Proust's handling of such themes in the book as love and friendship. As in his books On Love and The Romantic Movement, Botton shines in his ability to sensitively express various aspects of love and its influence on relationships. He also does a fine job of using various Proustian plots to help the reader understand how to simplify a complicated world. For example, one of my favorite pieces in Botton's book is his comparison of Albertine to the Duchesse de Guermantes and their polar approaches to appreciating art and apparel. This differentiation, in turn, raises an awareness of the joy and fulfillment that can be achieved in being non-acquisitive when it comes to attaining one's desires. For anyone wanting assistance in seeking a more spiritual life, Botton's book is a gem
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on August 13, 2000
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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on February 18, 2002
I know I'm in the minority,but I simply could not stand this book. In fact, I resisted reading it for many months, but friends finally talked my into it. I wish I had held my ground.
de Botton is certainly right about one thing: Proust can definitely change your life. He's changed mine. I just don't think anyone's life will be changed in the manner in which de Botton suggests.
How Proust Can Change Your Life is meant to amuse, but I found it more than mildly irritating. Had de Botton been a better writer I suppose I would have been amused, or, conversely, had Proust been a lesser writer, I might not have been irritated, but as it is....
Non-Proust fans will probably not understand the gist of this book. Proust fans will be able to correctly second guess de Botton every time. Thus, either way you look at it, the fun is spoiled. It might serve as an introduction to someone who wants to read Proust but finds the genuine article a bit daunting, but I do have my doubts. I think those who enjoy this book haven't read and studied Proust...in depth.
I do have something positive to say...it is obvious that de Botton has read and studied Proust. Why he chose to mock this great author in this manner is simply beyond me. Proust was never meant to be cute and sweet as de Botton attempts to be. And he certainly never meant to degenerate into self-help.
I love Proust. He is one of my alltime favorite authors. Read Proust, by all means, but read the genuine article. You'll come away far, far more enriched.
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on May 21, 1998
This is a very engaging and deft homage to Marcel Proust. Proust, rather than his immense novel ("In Search of Lost Time" is de Botton's preference over the usual English title "Remembrances of Things Past"--he does not comment on whether "The Sweet Cheat Gone" is an improvement upon "Albertine disparue") is generally the exemplar. I.e., the books is about what can be learned from the suffering author more than from the suffering narrator of his masterpiece. As filled with delights and profound lessons as the book is, I felt that De Botton evaded THE major question about transforming Proust's experiences of frustration in loving males into the narrator's experience of frustration in loving females. Because it is Proust rather than the fictional Marcel who is central, this is all the more crucial. Did the climate of repression of the time prevent Proust from writing from an openly homosexual perspective about life and love? De Botton is eager to accept Marcel's heterosexualization, even supplying a picture of his girlfriend (to prevent anyone thinking that so deep an immersion into the life and writings of a homosexual indicates the author is also one?). This is not merely a matter of identity politics. The possibilities of sex on a first meeting, to take one instance of what De Botton discusses, are (and were a century ago in France) different for male partners than for female ones. Still, De Botton's book is brilliant with many insights that are not compromised by not problematizing Marcel's heterosexual liaisons. I can't imagine a reader of Proust not finding passages to nod "Yes, exactly" and sections that will make her/him laugh aloud.
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