How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton | Book Report

How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton

I have no plans to read Marcel Proust’s (1871-1922) gargantuan 7-volumed magnum opus In Search of Lost Time any time soon. That 4,215-paged behemoth would require a commitment of time and energy that I’m not ready to give at this juncture of my reading career. So, instead, this last week I sampled a gateway drug of sorts, Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life.

After finishing this much more manageable 197-paged overview of Proust’s life and work by de Botton, I found myself wanting more Proust…and more de Botton. The book reads like a witty and sophisticated self-help book, where Proust’s life and work are mined for insights on how we might better navigate relationships, endure pain, read books, and love with greater attention. Reading it made me eager to get in touch with the teachings’ primary source.

While I do hope to someday read Proust firsthand, and not merely another person’s interpretation of select passages from his work, this introduction by de Botton was a fun and stimulating way to get my feet wet without having to dive in headfirst.

Favorite Quotes

"— and that we cannot therefore allow ourselves to judge the legitimacy of another's pain simply on the basis of the pain we would have suffered had we been similarly afflicted." (pg. 63, de Botton)

"We suffered, therefore we think, and we do so because thinking helps us place pain in context. It helps us understand its origins, plot its dimensions, and reconcile ourselves to its presence." (pg. 66, de Botton)

"Though philosophers have traditionally been concerned with the pursuit of happiness, far greater wisdom would seem to lie in pursuing ways to be properly and productively unhappy. The stubborn recurrence of misery means that the development of a workable approach to it must surely outstrip the value of any utopian quest for happiness. Proust, a veteran of grief, knew as much." (pg. 71, de Botton)

"Clichés are detrimental insofar as they inspire us to believe that they adequately describe a situation while merely grazing its surface." (pg. 88, de Botton)

"The universe suddenly gained infinite value in my eyes." (pg. 174, Proust after reading some of the writings by English art critic John Ruskin.)

"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." (pg. 197, Proust)

New Vocabulary

  • Effete: affected, over refined, and intellectual.
  • Recalcitrant: having an obstinately uncooperative attitude toward authority or discipline.
  • Inanity: a nonsensical remark or action.
  • Perspicacity: the quality of having a ready insight into things.
  • Chimerical: a thing that is hoped or wished for but in fact is illusory or impossible to achieve.