How Proust Can Change Your Life is Alain de Botton’s often tongue-in-cheek ‘lifestyle guide’ based on lessons from the life of canonical author Marcel Proust, the author of In Search of Lost Time.
Although Proust is a canonical author, I have not yet had the pleasure of reading him, nor was I very familiar with his life and background. De Bouton’s guide is interesting- and somewhat heartening- in illustrating how this great author had an inglorious start, wasn’t very good at getting or keeping a job, was often in poor health and lived in a sleepy, backwater town. In addition to Proust’s background, de Botton’s guide provides an overview of and occasional deep dive into Proust’s work.
Presenting this biography/critique as a ‘how-to’ guide is clever- it humanizes Proust, draws out some of his more admirable characteristics (generous, curious) and garners a smile from the reader.
One of the Goodreads reviews described de Botton as writing ‘literary criticism for the public’ and that feels about right- this is academia-lite, with enough serious subject material to give it heft (Proust) and a lighter approach that doesn’t require a see knowledge of literary terminology. Despite its light-hearted approach and slim size, I had a hard time getting through this one. It requires attention and thoughtfulness- this is not one you can just skim the way that some plot-driven novels are, nor is it a work/business book that is padded out with fluff or repetitive to make sure you really get the point. I did eventually persevere in finishing it, but had to give up on trying to read it before bed. (And I’ll still note that I occasionally found my mind wandering when I read it during daylight hours- so be forewarned!)
I’m not sure who I would recommend this to- despite being ‘popular literary criticism’ it still feels more academic than something my mom or most friends would be into. I think it would be good if either a) you’re thinking about reading Proust and want to get a foothold/ preview; or b) you’re never intending to read Proust but want enough background to understand the context or fiction/conversations he or his works might be referenced in.
Using this as my ‘Time’ square for cbr14bingo (if a time-saving guide to Marcel Proust book isn’t the perfect book for a ‘Time’ square, I don’t know what is).