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A little help with reading the hardest books in the world? :)

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How Proust can Change your Life by Alain de Botton

So maybe that’s a slightly flippant title for a post – is Proust’s Remembrance of Times Past/In Search of Lost Time the hardest book in the world? I’m not sure – I’ve read many a ‘difficult’ book in my time, but so far I’ve only got through the first two volumes of Proust (after owning them for over 30 years). The problem for me is more with the structure of the book than anything else; they require long, uninterrupted periods of reading to do them justice, and frankly my life is so fragmented that I rarely get that. However, I *am* determined that I will one day finish the sequence.

That’s perhaps by the by; what I’m supposed to be writing about here is a book *about* Proust, and quite a famous one at that. I’ve been aware of de Botton’s book for some time (I’m sure I’ve seen reviews on blogs I follow) and so when I came across a copy in a charity shop the time seemed right to read it.

“How Proust Can Change Your Life” is structured in nine sections, each taking a different angle on the great author. So one will consider “How to Love Life Today” while another ponders on the problem of “How to Suffer Successfully” and yet another looks at “How to Express Your Emotions”. Each section is a scintillating mix of biographical snippets, philosophical musings and insights into the work of Proust, how it’s best read and what you’ll get out of the books.

One section I found particularly appealing was “How To Take Your Time”; I read fast, often too fast, and the whole point with Proust is to read slowly, appreciating the language and the detail. Plot isn’t necessarily all, it’s experiencing the moment in depth, in all its glory. In our modern, fast-paced, short attention span world that’s harder to do than it ever was, and I imagine I’ll return to de Botton’s book for guidance on this as I need to slow my reading if I can!

Interestingly, though, it’s not only to Proust that de Botton’s thoughts can be applied; they’re more like ideas for life in general, and indeed how Proust can change the way you treat the everyday. In many ways, this reads almost like a self-help book, taking advice from the great author and using this to improve ourselves; appreciating what we have and not coveting more; and being honest about our friendships and what they really are for.

The final chapter goes into territory that makes me twitch a little – “How to Put Books Down”! Are books the be-all and end-all, or should we be spending more of our time living instead of reading? I suppose there needs to be balance, but to honest I’ve always agreed with Morrissey that “There’s more to life than books, you know, but not much more”….!

So, a fascinating book which serves to make Proust approachable as well getting you thinking about your lot in life, and life in general. De Botton is not scared to point out flaws or make criticisms, even having a bit of a laugh at the expense of his subject at times. However, he portrays the Proust and his great work as approachable and essential which hopefully will help me to get onto the next volume!

June – and the P-word!

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Yes – that means I’m actually considering reading plans for this month; and we all know how disastrously things like that tend to go for me! For example, I honestly intended to take part in the LibraryThing Virago group’s First World War read-along – and I’ve totally failed to read even one book for that, despite having several on the shelves. I collapsed halfway through the group read of Barbara Pym last year, and if I’ve learned anything it’s that I can’t stick to reading plans and simply having to follow my reading Muse.

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However, despite that – there are two things I intend to try to read this month. The first is a Mary Hocking book. Mary sadly passed away earlier this year, and she’s a Virago author who is a particular favourite of HeavenAli, who’s designate June as RememberMary. So I intend to read the Hocking novel “A Particular Place” in support of this, and I do hope that lots of you can join in.

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The second book I want to read is the second book in Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” sequence: “Within a Budding Grove” (as it’s titled in my volume). I was very, *very* happy to finally make my way through the first part, and I want to keep the momentum going as much as I can without excluding other books. Spacing them out to say one a month would be manageable, which is what I hope to do. Plus I will be reading alongside another LibraryThinger, Laura, and it always helps to have someone to keep you company within an epic book!!

Apart from that, I am keeping my options open. I seem to be currently enjoying a lot of European lit, and also Moomins – but whether I will stay with them all throught the month remains to be seen. Watch this space…..

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