As I sip delicately from pages of Proust in tiny increments, I indulge myself in reading books about Proust in larger bursts. I stumbled on this book whilst hunting another psuedo-guide to Proust (which was quickly abandoned). I love most of what Alain de Botton has written and this was a pleasure romp like the others. By interspersing Proust’s own words within a framework of a How-to guide, de Botton breathes new life into the heavy volumes of In Search of Lost Time. He breaks the advice down into nine tidy sections: 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 friends, how to open your eyes, how to be happy in love, and how to put books down. It’s a prescription from the lit doctor that you won’t want to ignore.
As always, I find comfort in authors’ antisocial tendencies, and Proust is no exception. De Botton pulls out a Proust quote in the section on friendship that I particularly love: “Conversation, which is friendship’s mode of expression, is a superficial digression which gives us nothing worth acquiring. We may talk for a lifetime without doing more than indefinitely repeat the vacuity of a minute.”
Also, Proust once compared friendship to reading: “In reading, friendship is suddenly brought back to its original purity. There is no false amiability with books. If we spend the evening with these friends, it is because we genuinely want to.”
Lovely light intro to Proust for those afraid of dipping a toe in. Once you dip, you dive, submerge, and never return, so caveat lector!
Updated to include this snippet that I just quoted in a letter to my sister, imploring her to give up her attempt to read Ulysses in order to clear the decks for Proust, mentioning that Joyce met Proust at a friend’s dinner party in Paris in 1922 and wrote of the meeting: “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘Non.’ Proust asked me if I knew the duc de so-and-so. I said ‘Non.’ Our hostess asked Proust if he had read such and such a piece of Ulysses. Proust said ‘Non.’ And so on.” They then shared a taxi away from the party and Joyce said nary a word while Proust chattered away to the Schiffs (Sydney & Violet), not speaking to Joyce at all. Fin!