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am 11. Juli 2000
How Proust Can Change Your Life is an easy read and its themes ambulate like John Cleese in The Flying Circus, however their target is always met with utmost accuracy. This is a rich and insightful book. What could have been an incomprehensible abstract mosaic turns out to be a triumphant effort to bring together Proust's eccentric life with his prolific writing. De Botton is able to touch on the paradoxical nature of humanity, alluding to the ambiguities of one of the greatest western novelists. De Botton's work is not a proscriptive self-help book. It is an account of a man struggling with life's triumphs and toils. It is a revealing account of Proust's struggles and the literature he produced as a result. De Botton never tells the reader how to deal with pain or loss, rather, he reads into his subject's life and humourously analyzies Proust's psyche. This is not an attempt to extemporize a pschology or philosophy that will enable us to deal with our vexing personal problems. It is a cogent attempt to open our minds to those problems and ambuguities that we may feel are abnormal, making them more normal. It is an intransigent work that is sanguine and lucid. A book full of irony and humor that I have read cover to cover and still pick up for a good laugh and pick-me-up. Highly recommended!
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am 19. Juni 2000
A reviewer wrote- "I'ts hard to imagine how Proust can change your life if you don't actually read Proust". That is true, but then on the other hand, never, while reading this book, did I get the impression that Alain de Botton was trying to replace Proust. I don't think he was trying to offer a guide to Proust, nor trying to write literary criticism or anything like that: After finishing the book, the impression I got was that this is more a self-help book (and quite a witty and funny one, actually, much better than the usual saccharine-sweet self help books) and less a book about Proust. The good thing is that "How Proust can change your life" will probably give you an appetite for more Marcel Proust...and that has to do with the clarity and lightness of touch with which de Botton writes: you can't resist his admiration for Proust, even though you might have objections to the way he chose to express this admiration: but then who says that books about philosophy or about literature have to be dead serious and heavy? I think Alain de Botton has written an original book, a book that's a kind of experiment, as it combines self-help insights with good literature and important ideas. If you read this as such, as an interesting experiment which may bring more people to Proust, then you won't really be able to find any fault in the book.
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am 23. Dezember 1998
Let me start by saying that I sleep well at night and don't pretend to have the vaguest clue about some of the great writers of literature. Now that I've established my honesty and credibility, maybe I can say a few words about this book. Personally, I think the author wouldn't be such a bad fellow to know. I like the way he segmented the book and described relevant portions of Proust. I am a soldier and spend a lot of time in the field; currently in a part of the world which is undergoing an uneasy truce. I read whatever I can get my hands on and am tired of the muscle and skin magazines, car magazines, etc., which is the normal fare. When a book like this comes along, which is fairly easy to read and digest and more importantly, makes me want to attempt the real thing, then I don't think it's such a bad book and certainly not deserving of one or two stars. As for re-evaluating life's experiences, I hope that I can sit back one day and use a "Proustian" view to re-examine my current experiences; something which I have not been able to do as I've only been able to react. That is probably the biggest lesson and the irony of the whole Proust phenomenon, that is, from his bed, he observes with the utmost clarity, the most minute activities of a day, while the rest of us are busy living and missing out on these subtleties and insights into ourselves.
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am 10. April 1999
It's hard to imagine that anyone who has read this thing and liked it has also read Proust. It's scary to think too much about what kind of person would give this "not a novel" five stars--but never mind; I'll stick to the rules and discuss the book. For one thing, Botton can't write; grammatical, structural and usage errors pepper the pages. I'm sorry that I have room to point out so few. On p. 5 he mentions a writer who "blithely declared his intention to devote himself to a final game of bridge, tennis and golf." Imagine that--all three rolled into one game; now that would be diverting indeed. B. does no better with parallelism on p. 9 where he notes that Proust's novel is a "universally applicable story about how to stop wasting time and start to appreciate life." Mere quibbles, you may protest, but what about a "writer" who can't even make subject and verb agree? (p. 25: ". . . there are a stream of extraordinary benefits attached.") And I defy anyone to understand the opening paragraph of Chapter 4: "A good way of evaluating the wisdom of someone's ideas might be to undertake a careful examination of the state of their own mind and health. After all, if their pronouncements were truly worthy of our attention, we should expect that the first person to reap their benefits would be their creator. Might this justify an interest not simply in a writer's work but also in their life?"
Even if you make allowances for B's inability to use pronouns that agree with their antecedents, can you tell what the antecedents are supposed to be? And even if you get that far, the "this" in the last sentence has so many possible antecedents that any attempt at comprehension becomes impossible. Dangling phrases, misplaced modifiers, hopelessly-tangled syntax--B is master of them all. But enough. The careful reader, the astute reader, the kind of reader that it takes to read Proust will, if she or he cares to bother, find such howlers on every page of this not-a-book. As for the content, B seems to think that he invented the (sophomoric) notion that the characters in literature are to be "identified with." He even goes so far as to include a photo of his girlfriend to show how much she looks like Proust's Albertine. Has the man no shame?
You're either going to read Proust or you're not, but in either case Botton's whatever-it-is will add nothing to your understanding or appreciation. And while Proust may indeed change your life, you certainly don't need this puerile and pretentious collection of scraps to help you realize it. The thing starts to live up to its title only when its compiler quotes, summarizes or "explains" Proust's novel, but why should you listen to Botton's simplistic and anti-grammatical ramblings when you can have the enchanting experience of reading Proust's work itself?
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am 16. März 2000
This book has been ludicrously dismissed as 'facile' by sniffy snobs. The dismaying fact remains that in this age of overcrowding media vying for our attention, you have to be pretty convincing to make people want to give a large chunk of their lives to a 4000 page novel about sponge cakes, silly aristocrats and sickly fops.
De Botton manages this with ease. His book is an excellent precis of Proustian concerns - time, love, friendship, literature - told in deceptively simple language masking thoroughness and complexity. His aren't the last words on these subjects, they are starting points which allow the virgin reader a map when starting on the vast terrain of A La Recherche.
His own prose is elegant, suggestive and sometimes very funny, while his emphasis on the personal is at the same time endearing, a way into the book, and true to Proust. He fills in his narrative with much biographical, historical and anecdotal matter, drawing on letters, newspapers, memoires, which are both illuminating and entertaining.
His own method is seemingly the opposite of Proust's, immediately lucid and precise, but the form of his book follows the Proustian pattern, whereby the book heading in one direction turns in on itself, becomes a book about itself, its own creation, even negating itself as it tells us to abandon Proust if we want to be true to the spirit of Proust.
The book isn't perfect - sometimes the prose is a little TOO easy; both Proust and De Botton come across as near-saintly figures, full of understanding and kindness, when the truth (with Proust at any rate) is much messier; and the last two chapters are a little rushed. But few books outside the thriller genre have delighted me and kept me reading feverishly to the end like this little trinket.
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am 18. September 1998
De Botton's "How Proust Can Change Your Life" is yet another fix in the flux of experimental fiction, namely experiments on the essence of autobiographies and biographies. Previous examples of these particular experimental novels include Woolf's "Orlando", Stein's "The Autobiography of Alice B. Tolkas" and Winterson's "Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit". De Botton's narrative is an indication of an influenced by Proust De Botton, and, interestingly enough, there are moments in the book itself where one can actually visualize the two authors in conversation. What is it that we can learn from the Master's experiences that are not included in his opus? One thing I learnt was that even Virginia Woolf was so enthralled with Proust's work that she almost gave up writing. However, she held her head high and continued trying and then came up with "Mrs. Dalloway". The book is in a DIY Acheive Happiness form, and what can be more refreshing today than that? My favorite chapter - in the sense that I have picked up something from it that will stay with me for life - is the "How To Open Your Eyes" chapter where De Botton points out that with a short story, Proust was trying to teach us an important lesson: namely, not to ascribe any value to the objects - tangible or non - that surround us but the _correct_ value. And in a world that tends towards superfluity and insatiability, what could be a better awakening?
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am 7. Januar 2013
As Proust spent most of his time in his bed (reading, writing, ...) this might be a good place for the reader, too, to lay back and enjoy this beautiful book. It will stir you up though as it covers important questions of life, but practical ones, not the fuzzy type, and in a brilliant style. Reading this is like eating dark chocolate with high nutritional value. :-) And fun.
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am 7. Dezember 1999
this book is lousy...don't buy it
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am 27. Oktober 1999
Someone writes, "I have read Proust, thank you very much. And I've read this book as well." I, on the other hand, have read neither. I give "How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel" three stars, meaning "neither good nor bad" because I don't know--yet I have something to say, something I think important. Regarding: "I haven't bothered to proof-read this message for grammatical or spelling errors, so feel free to criticize these at will, if it helps distract you from the actual content of the message." Criticizing grammatical errors in an amateur review (mine, for example) is very different from criticizing them in a published book. If the reviewer below who finds them in this book has quoted it accurately, that is reason enough to avoid this book or to review it unfavorably. Unless we start at some point to worry about language, the means of expressing "actual content", it will soon become impossible to do so intelligibly.
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am 31. August 1999
I found this book to be original and thought-provoking.
For some reason, it evoked a similar state of mind to that which I experience while reading Iris Murdoch's "Under The Net".
It appears to be a light philosophical treatise, albeit disguised as light literary criticism. As such, it passes the essential test of practicality. I have found myself (mentally) referring back to certain passages when wondering what to do about this or that situation in my own life.
I also found it to be very good fun to read.
Time and re-reading often do strange things to books. So I am not prepared to come to a conclusion about "How Proust Can Change Your Life" until I have read it again in a couple of years' time. But I am already looking forward to doing so.
Meanwhile, thanks Alain de B for a very unusual experience.
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