How Proust can change your life

by Alain : de Botton

Paperback, 1998




New York, Vintage International, 1998


Draws from the writings of turn-of-the-century French novelist and critic Marcel Proust to provide lessons on how best to live life, discussing topics such as expressing emotions, being happy in love, developing good friendships, and the use of time.

Media reviews

One doesn't usually think of Marcel Proust as the author of a great self-help book. Unless of course what you admire most about ''Remembrance of Things Past'' is its usefulness for killing huge amounts of time. Alain de Botton, a novelist, doesn't take quite such a crassly utilitarian view in his delightfully original work of literary criticism, ''How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel.'' But he does come close in places. For instance, in Chapter 3, called ''How to Take Your Time,'' he points out that one reaction to the great length of Proust's famous novel was the ''All-England Summarize Proust Competition,'' once presented by the Monty Python troupe in the belief, as Mr. de Botton puts it, that ''what had originally taken seven volumes to express could reasonably be condensed into 15 seconds or less, without too great a loss of integrity or meaning, if only an appropriate candidate could be found.'' . . .

User reviews

LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
I have yet to read Proust, but after de Botton's love letter to the French writer I cannot wait to start. All I have to do is find a good, serviceable copy of his Recherches, and of course the hours to go with it.

De Botton is a good writer in his own way, and knows how to present a good book. There are illustrations aplenty, a judicious use of white space, and short paragraphs on every page. De Botton gets out of the way wherever he can, showing Proust through the writer's own words, elaborating when necessary or when it might further interest the reader.

All in all a balanced and useful little book, like a fresh madeleine that welcomes you into the day.
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LibraryThing member roblong
Breezy, quite amusing stuff, a good read if you’ve read Proust or fancy a flavour of his world before dipping in to the full 3,500 page monster novel.
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
Well, this book has changed my life in one way. I will never ever be tempted to pick up anything by Proust. A rich, whiny hypochondriac with no sense of reality -- not bloody likely. Holy merde.
LibraryThing member Nickelini
I'm sure this book had a point. However, overall it was too boring for me to care what that point was.
LibraryThing member dazzyj
The best introduction to Proust I can imagine and, yes, distils some useful advice from his vast corpus too. De Botton's lucid and slightly coy style works wonderfully when applied to Proust's labrynthine and elaborate writings.
LibraryThing member michaelm42071
Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), is an only slightly tongue-in-cheek “self-help” book. de Botton uses not only In Search of Lost Time, but also Proust’s letters and journalism to come up with his advice, which he groups into “How to Love Life Today,” “How to Read for Yourself,” How to Take Your Time,” “How to Suffer Successfully,” “How to Express Your Emotions,” “How to Be a Good Friend,” “How to Open Your Eyes,” “How to Be Happy in Love,” “How to Put Books Down.” Some of these seem much more obvious topics than others; taking one’s time in assessing an emotion, for example, looks like Proust’s main strength, and there are many observations by the young narrator of In Search of Lost Time about how art helps us to see the world. As far as being successful in one’s emotional life and in love, de Botton does not reveal that he is aware that the ill success of Swann and the narrator in these regards is expressed in the novel as a general principle. People don’t learn from experience in Proust. All they learn is how they will react to an emotional situation like falling in love, and then they proceed to react that way again and again and again. Thus we watch both Swann and the narrator replaying their parallel scenes of love and jealousy. de Boton quotes a letter to Gide in which Proust says he can be of help to people in love, not from his own success, but in a general way; de Boton takes Proust seriously here and does not seem aware that the letter is in Proust’s puckish manner. But de Botton, aside from some grammatical gaffes, is an entertaining writer who can somehow get away with a book based on a wrong-headed idea.… (more)
LibraryThing member Esta1923
This is my "Comfort Book." I often carry it to appointments to read while waiting. Somehow its excerpt from Proust, and comments by de Botton relax me!
LibraryThing member juliannekim
my ultimate favorite book that makes you think clearly and lead a more fulfilling life.
LibraryThing member rayski
A review of Marcel Proust’s masterpiece “In Search of Lost Time”. Botton tries to describe in 200 pages what Proust wrote in 2000 pages. More than a review of Proust’s novel, a look at the man.
LibraryThing member hellbent
Excellent how-to guide to appreciating one's own senses.
LibraryThing member dtn620
Upon picking up this book I noticed the back cover was labeled Literature/Self-Help. I laughed. I couldn't imagine someone who reads self-help books picking up a book on Proust. At the same time I can't imagine a person who would read Proust or something about him to pick up a self-help book.

Now that I have read it I must say it wasn't what I expected. I expected it to be a book about how reading Proust would change my life or maybe how the experience of reading Proust would do so. Instead it is structured as I would expect a self-help book to be structured. I enjoyed many of the biographical bits on Proust's life and the excerpts from his writings and letters but it doesn't leave me chomping at the bit to pick up Swann's Way.

Maybe it was my error to read this book as a motivator to give Swann's Way another go this year (though the short bit at the end about Virginia Woolf did a little bit). Regardless of my misunderstanding/misconception of the purpose of this book it was still pretty solid and entertaining. Do I feel that Proust has changed my life through this book? No, I don't, but I do feel that it is possible that In Search of Lost Time can if I ever get around to starting it again.
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LibraryThing member kpodesta
One of his best books I think - funny, thought provoking, informative, short (!), while also giving a picture of what Proust was like both as a person and a writer. Uplifting stuff mostly too.
LibraryThing member flydodofly
Well done for de Botton once again. So much interesting information on Proust and ways how he (or anything else, for that matter) can make an impact for the better in our lives. And everything in such a small book! And de Botton's writing is always so relaxed and so clever. I wish I had read this before reading Swann's Way, though, not after. Would definitely recommend it in any case.… (more)
LibraryThing member george.d.ross
almost as brilliant and inspiring as its source material (but much easier to read).
LibraryThing member antao
“To make [reading] into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement. Reading is on the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it.”
Quote from one of Proust’s books, In “How Proust Can Change Your Life” by Alain de Botton

“Even the finest books deserve to be thrown aside.”
In “How Proust Can Change Your Life” by Alain de Botton

I read Proust's masterpiece back in the 80s when I was attending the British Council. I still remember all too well one particular hilariously snippy Monty Python sketch (“the Summarize Proust Competition”). Back in the day, I too wanted to be able to rub elbows with the elite intellectuals who mocked Proust, so I picked up the first of three volumes (the weighty Moncrieff editions) and got started. The first few pages were tough going, but soon I became mesmerized, then I fell in love, and by the end of the summer I was tucking flowers into the plackets of my trousers and wearing bows in my shirts. Oh childhood! Swann's Way is the swiftest, plottiest volume in the monster, with “Un Amour de Swann” a little novel in itself, with a beginning, middle, end, and all that sort of thing. Originally drafted in a mere three volumes, the “Recherche” grew as Proust re-Proustified the later volumes while waiting for publication; many readers have wished that that long mini-book could be recovered. The pace picks up again in the last volume, which the author's death prevented him from reworking, so that a dinner party—one of the greatest scenes in all literature, by the way—takes only a few hundred pages to describe, what with the jolts of consciousness with which Proust bracketed it, while the first half of the volume is impossibly brilliant about the first World War without ever leaving Paris. It's best to have time for such idleness, best to be so besotted with the possibilities of literature that you love rather than loathe the lengthiness; which is to say that you need to encounter Proust at the right time of your life and possibly even the right place, so that Proust's times and places become yours. I’ve been avoiding re-reading Proust. More than 30 years later should I re-read him? My advice for those of you who haven’t read it yet. I hope that luck will be yours; without it, the task may prove impossible. If you find yourself fatally at a loss to know what and why you're reading his work, check out Samuel Beckett's slim monograph; for all its showy intellectuality—it's a youthful work—it's still the best compass for getting across that ocean. De Botton’s attempt is not the best way to go about it. I also recommend the Proust Screenplay by Harold Pinter, which accomplishes the amazing feat of boiling the whole thing down into a 90-minute screenplay without losing any of the flavour. When I felt lost at the beginning of my first reading of Pinter's work, revealed the whole structure to me and enabled me to carry on. Reading De Botton’s book, full of Proust’s excerpts, proves that I’m still finding reading Proust a strangely claustrophobic experience. I got the overwhelming impression of a man who observes, dissects and minutely describes life, but perhaps forgets to live it? As a reader, I feel the novel takes me over. There is no room for separate interpretation or thought. Proust leaves no margin for error. It's a bit like the difference between watching butterflies fluttering in a meadow and having them pinned and labelled, dead, on a board for inspection.

When someone asks me why I read so much, and why “I don’t think for myself”, I always like to refer them to this quote by Proust:

‘The mediocre usually imagine that to let ourselves be guided by the books we admire robs our faculty of judgment of part of its independence. “What can it matter to you what Ruskin feels: feel for yourself” […] There is no better way of coming to be aware of what one feels oneself than by trying to recreate in oneself what a master has left. In this profound effort it is our thought itself that we bring out into the light, together with this.’
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LibraryThing member fraxi
At last, a short book on Proust! Very helpful and insightful into the man and his work, but the quirky arrangement and presentation may jar. Certainly worth a read.
LibraryThing member benjamin.lima
Now I suppose I shall have to read this Proust fellow.
LibraryThing member midwestms
Delightful book on how this great writer's eccentric vision can apply to our own lives!
LibraryThing member BenKline
Picked this up at the library, partly because I've never read Proust and want to see more about him (who he was, etc.), and partly to decide if I ever *do* want to read him....

And well.... this book 1) makes it so I don't want to read him, and 2) makes it so I don't much care for anything about Proust or want to learn about him.

The other reason I picked this up was Botton himself. He seems like a reasonably intelligent person in the articles, interviews, speeches, and youtube videos I've seen of him..... but through this book, he comes off very much like the way he describes Proust. ....which is not good at all.

Flat out, the book does serve to do one thing for you -- to remind you not to live a life reminiscent of Proust's, but to read Proust (if you have the time, and don't care that he can write a sentence that is literally 14 lines long).

Sorry, I value my time far too much for this, for Botton's pompous outlook on things, for Proust's life, and definitely not to read the works of Proust; especially the seven volumes of 'In Search of Lost Time'. (Seems aptly named doesn't it?)
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LibraryThing member Marse
I loved "The Art of Travel", but de Botton's "How Proust Can Change Your Life" left me cold. I think, sometimes, knowing too much about the author can negatively affect one's reading of his work. I have read the Swann's Way section of ISOLT (will read the rest someday, when I have time to reread the beginning), so I do find Proust's writing wonderful, but this book didn't do anything for me or my reading of Proust.… (more)
LibraryThing member andycyca
A small, concise book on what to learn from Proust and his work. Digestible for us without formal philosophical training, yet deep enough to give a few answers and, in accordance with the last chapter, deep enough to show the reader just how many questions are out there for one to figure out.
LibraryThing member pewterbreath
I will never probably read Proust--because his works are so mammoth and all-engrossing, so this is the next best thing. I'm a huge fan of de Botton, and enjoy his consistently accessible erudition.



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