How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton is the book that brought de Botton into the public eye and launched his successful non-fiction writing career. It is one of de Botton’s better books. The book runs an interesting line between being a self-help book and a book about Proust and his epic novel In Search of Lost Time.It displays some of de Botton’s better points and his worse ones. The book is pleasantly brief, well written and injected with some humour. De Botton also knows his subject very well. On the downside the book is somewhat pompous, the points he makes are often pretty banal and there is the question as to what the point of the book is.
The book is in nine chapters. They are: 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 and How to Put Books Down. There is quite a bit of irony in the chapter titles as Proust is a curioius example for many of the subjects. He was not happy in love and was a dubious friend to quite a few people. He is, however, an example of how to suffer successfully.
Proust also led a very strange life. His diet and personal habits would have brought many to illness as they did to Proust. Proust was the son and brother of famous surgeons. He led a lazy life, becoming a socialite before dabbling with scholarship and then retiring to write his great epic. It’s interesting to take such a character as the focus for a book that is, in part, something of a self-help book. But it works overall.
The book is worth a read if you like de Botton. Of his books this one and the Consolations of Philosophy are the two that are best known and worth a quick, pleasant read. It’s an amusing book.