This is a quirky self-help book from the French philosopher. It is based on Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, a long-winded novel in seven volumes which is one of those 'works of genius' which very few people have actually read. I haven't. Yet.
De Botton's nine essays in this book include 'How to take your time' and 'How to read for yourself'; he bases each theme on Proust's life and work. For example, in 'How to suffer successfully' de Botton points out that Proust was a long-term invalid, perhaps a hypochondriac, who used his hyper-sensitivity to empathise with and understand his characters. We all suffer, says de Botton, we all have our little aches or disappointments, we all have moments of regret or loss. The secret is to be sufficiently sensitive to our suffering, not to let it incapacitate us but to use it to gain insight into our common humanity.
In 'How to open your eyes' de Botton describes how Proust uses an imaginary impressionist to show his narrator that you can see beauty in everyday modern objects as well as in traditional romantic things. De Botton doesn't deny that some things may be ugly, or we may perceive some things as more beautiful than others but, he says. if we have preconceptions as to what is beautiful we will wear blinkers and our lives will be more limited than they need to be.
This is a beautiful little book with a lot of important philosophy. It also shows how Proust writer characters in depth (though at the expense of brevity!). I must read the master work sometime.
Alain de Botton has also written the brilliant Religion for Atheists.
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57