October 10, 2012

Mini-review: "How Proust Can Change Your Life," by Alain de Botton

(CCLaP publishes mini-reviews of both books and movies on a regular basis, none lasting more than a few hundred words. A full list of CCLaP's book-based mini-reviews can be found on its main book page, and movies on the main movie page.)

How Proust Can Change Your Life, by Alain de Botton

How Proust Can Change Your Life
By Alain de Botton
Vintage

I recently had the chance to hear philosopher Alain de Botton talk on the "On Being" podcast, and found him to be really fascinating; much like the Existentialists of Mid-Century Modernism, he's a "spiritual atheist" who has dedicated his career towards the pursuit of meaningful ritual and ethical code-building but without the need of a supernatural higher power, even going so far as to start an "atheist church" called The School of Life out of a storefront retail space in the middle of London. And so that has prompted me to go back and read some of his older books; and what better to have come up free at first at the local library than his slim and funny 1997 volume How Proust Can Change Your Life, because this just happens to be one of the reading projects I've been contemplating taking on after finally finishing the CCLaP 100 essay series, is to finally take on the daunting seven-volume In Search of Lost Time from this famed digressor and recluse. Ah, but that's one of the first things you learn when reading de Botton's part-biography, part-life guide, is that Marcel Proust was not exactly a recluse at all, despite the famed stories about writing huge parts of his massive multi-part novel while laying in bed for sometimes 16 straight hours at a time (indeed, he was a well-known socializer and party-thrower during his own lifetime, and particularly known for leaving giant tips at high-end restaurants), nor according to de Botton should we be particularly daunted by Proust's giant novel, which has picked up a bad reputation precisely because of its digressive nature (after all, the entire thing starts with a thirty-page reminiscence of childhood sensations, all brought on by the narrator one day eating a type of cookie that he used to enjoy as a kid), but in reality a highly readable and enjoyable book for us sophisticated 21st-century audiences, much more used to this hopping around in time and space than the Early Modernist critics who first labeled this book as "difficult." A delightful little guide that spends most of its time highlighting the very human issues that Proust surprisingly championed (the joy of friendship, the mysteries of the mundane, the effort to revel in life no matter what your circumstances), this is also a fine introduction to the work of de Botton himself, and I have to say that I'm eagerly looking forward to making my way through the next book of his that has freed itself up at the library this week, 2011's Religion for Atheists.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:43 AM, October 10, 2012. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |