Jun 1, 2007

How Proust can change your life

 Just finished Alain de Botton's splendid book "How Proust can change your life", an incisive and witty commentary into Marcel Proust's insights into the workings of love, society, art and the meaning of existence. Though published almost 10 years ago, the book touches on universal themes that apply across time.

According to Wikipedia, Marcel Proust was a French intellectual, novelist, essayist and critic, best known as the author of In Search of Lost Time (in French À la recherche du temps perdu)." An eccentric

In Search of Lost Time is by no means "light bedtime reading", it is
a monumental work of consisting of seven volumes, 3,000 pages and 1.25 million words, and published over 14 years from 1913 to 1927. Although the writing is sensitive and insightful, it can be extremely verbose in its descriptions of everyday minutiae, and one can else get lost in its passages.

Saving us the agony of undertaking the gargantuan task of actually reading the novel,
de Botton expertly divides each theme into easily digestible portions, peppering each copiously with interesting anecdotes. It reads like a mock self-help guide, with chapters entitled: "How to Express Your Emotions", "How to Suffer Successfully" and "How to Take Your Time". It even takes jabs at the typical American self-help book:

Q: How long can the average human expect to be appreciated?

A: Fully appreciated? Often, as little as a quarter of an hour …

Q: Did Proust have any relevant thoughts on dating? What should one talk about on a first date? And is it good to wear black?

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.’
In all, a thoroughly engaging read and highly recommended.

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