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How Proust Can Change Your Life Paperback – 20 Jan 2006
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‘Dazzling’ John Updike
'What a marvellous book this is ...de Botton dissects what (Proust) had to say about friendship, reading, looking carefully, paying attention taking your time, being alive and adds his own delicious commentary. The result is an intoxicating as it is wise, amusing as well as stimulating, and presented in so fresh a fashion as to be unique ...I could not stop, and now much start all over again.' - Brian Masters, "Mail on Sunday".'De Botton not only has a complete understanding of Proust's life ...but what is particularly charming about this small, readable book is its tongue-in-cheek benignity, its lightly held erudition and its generous way of lending itself to what is not only the greatest book of the century but also the darkest and the most eccentric' - Edmund White, "Observer".'It contains more human interest and play of fancy than most fiction ...de Botton, in emphasizing Proust's healing, advisory aspects, does us the service of rereading him on our behalf, providing of that vast sacred lake a sweet and lucid distillation.' - John Updike, "New Yorker".'De Botton's little book is so charming, amusing and sensible that it may even itself change your life.'- Allan Massie, "Daily Telegraph".'This engaging book is one of the most entertaining pieces of literary criticism I have read in a long while.' - "Sunday Telegraph".'A very enjoyable book' - "Sebastian Faulks". See all Product description
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Along the way we read of Proust’s meeting with James Joyce (sadly disappointing), his dislike of noise, his family, how to appreciate the ordinary things in life, his relationship with his mother, his ailments and the importance he placed on friendship. My knowledge of Proust is not great, but I look forward to reading his work and this was suggested to me as a good beginning. Indeed, if you are considering reading Proust’s work, this is a really good introduction to the man and his writing. Highly recommended and a wonderfully enjoyable read.
As well as receiving some useful life advice such as listening to your friends rather than insisting on telling them about yourself and your concerns; I formed a vivid picture of Proust himself. I liked the way he moved round the table when he held dinner parties so that each of his guests received his undivided attention for a time. Yes he was a hypochondriac and valetudinarian but he was also a good friend and has many useful things to say about friendship.
It seems from reading this book that Proust's epic novel concentrates on everyday happenings as demonstrated by the famous madeleine incident. I particularly enjoyed the chapter about not taking your own views from famous authors but using them as jumping off points to establish what you yourself think. Read books but don't take them as absolute truths - think for yourself as well.
I thought it was interesting that Virginia Woolf felt her own work was no good at all after reading Proust as she thought he had written the perfect novel and there was no point in anyone writing anything else. Overall this is an interesting book as it is a mixture of biographical information about Proust himself and a dissection of some of his writing. If you're wondering about reading Proust but are wary of dipping a toe in the water then this would be a good place to start.
We're told how Proust said he would spend his final weeks if given notice of impending doom; how rich, deep, complex and worth savouring he found life; how strongly he advocated continually learning from misfortune.
We learn how vividly he identified fictional characters with real ones; how alert he was to the artistic skill of highlighting what the audience knew but had never articulated; and how passionate he was for originality, hence authenticity, versus imitation and cliché.
De Botton describes Proust's emphatic distinction between the amount of truth to be found in books and the amount to be found in relationships; and his delight in the edification of books in combination with continuing to think for ourselves.
He goes on to illustrate the ways Proust emphasised the importance of appreciating what you have, rather than what you might have; the value of the humble compared to the exalted; the greater reward we find in things we have had to yearn for; and how readily familiarity breeds contempt.
We are left in no doubt that Proust can change our life for the better.