Books as an extension of the human experience can get us all excited and often too attached whenever we find something incredible to read. It changes, influences, or fires up something inside us.
But with the Proustian ways depicted in this book, one will not fail to get that sensation, and more.
Alain de Botton cracked the code for us to understand a seemingly complex body of writing into chunks of wisdom that we can straightforwardly absorb. The way he guides us through the Proustian mindset glides smoothly in every scenario taken from Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, with his interpretation of how to apply the practical lessons from this classic piece to our everyday lives.
They are wisely broken down into chapters of How-Tos that can easily make you say, “Yes, I would like to know how to do that!” The author paves the way to Proustian thinking with a beautiful perspective on how life can hide so much from us due to our laziness. It tells us how our negligence kills our desires because there is no rush in life – unless we see a disaster coming. Proust reminds us how “mortality encourages us to reevaluate our priorities.”
That is just the first chapter. Any reader will be filled with practical motivation and more importantly, clarity about certain things that we usually encounter in life. We read this book and we will start seeing things, good or bad, in a different light.
Chapter 1: How to Love Life Today
The attention that we give to life ONLY when it is at stake shows that our dissatisfactions were a result of a certain way of living instead of anything irrevocably morose about human experience. Proust educates us to stop wasting time and start appreciating life.
Chapter 2: How to Read for Yourself
We all agree – reading is therapeutic. It provides an escape or an alternative universe. But Proust introduced an interesting view on how we choose to read materials from which we ascribe the traits of a character to the one we love (I asked myself, maybe we also ascribe the traits of a character to ourselves?). He stated that in reality, “every reader, while he is reading, is the reader of his own self” (there it is!).
Chapter 3: How to Take Your Time
This goes to show why Proust’s work is unapologetically lengthy. Compressing something that is supposed to be valuable is not Proust’s way. Compression shows how vulnerable we are to abbreviation. Proust reads the newspaper with great care; he also reads train timetables and the names of provincial stations – which made him imagine elaborate fictional worlds.
Chapter 4: How to Suffer Successfully
I know what you’re thinking – who wants to suffer successfully? Suffer? For Proust, we don’t really learn anything properly until something fails to go as we hoped. “Infirmity alone makes us notice and learn,” according to him.
But Proust also argued that whatever misery or turmoil we see in a body of work, it is the book, not the lives, that mattered. Alain de Botton wisely posed the question, “why should lives color our approach to works which suffer from none of the creator’s faults?”
Chapter 5: How to Express Your Emotions
Proust dislikes poor expressions. He believes that we should find the right words for things (Amen to this! I am on side, only I find it extremely difficult.). Alain de Botton further explained that the way we speak is ultimately linked to the way we feel, as to how we describe the world reflects how we experience it.
Chapter 6: How to be a Good Friend
As much as friendships offers an opportunity for us to communicate our thoughts, Proust reminded us that this is dependable on 1) how much thoughts we have about our friends could potentially be hurtful and seem unkind, and 2) our evaluation of how ready they are to break the friendship once we dared express our honest thoughts (All I can think about right now is Dale Carnegie’s book of winning friends and influencing people.).
Conversations require an abdication of one’s self in the name of pleasing companions. In a nutshell: get secure affection VS express yourself honestly. But Proust suggested that rather pursuing both truth and affection, discern the incompatibilities and divide between what can be expressed and what remains unsaid.
Chapter 7: How to Open Your Eyes
Once again, Proust reveals the fact that our dissatisfactions are the results of our failure to look at our lives, rather than the result of what we think is lacking or deficient about them. He perfectly argues that “beauty is something to be found, rather than passively encountered. It requires us to pick up on certain details.” This facet of the Proustian mindset is breathtaking.
Chapter 8: How to Be Happy In Love
In Proust’s view, eternity lies on the general difficulty of maintaining an appreciative relationship with anything or anyone that was always around. It is not just love. We are a creature of habit and we tend to become distant from what is already familiar to us.
Presence is what makes us ignore or neglect something or someone because we already did the work merely by visual contact. Proust does not suggest absence. He is too good for that. He posits that “we should learn a lesson from what we naturally do when we lack something, and apply it to conditions where we don’t.”
Chapter 9: How to Put Books Down
The book aptly ended with a chapter on How to Put Books Down. This is completely the best way I have seen a book come to a close. Proust argued that,
“there is no way of coming to be aware of what one feels oneself than by trying to recreate in oneself what a master has felt.”
Thus, we actually read other people’s books to learn what WE feel. While a book contains another person’s thoughts, we are developing our own. And that at a certain point, a book will just stop making us aware of the things that we feel – simply because we did not write it.
And this is how Alain de Botton tells us about the benefits and limitations of books. It teaches us how we should look at OUR OWN world through Proust’s eyes. Because as per Proust,
“reading is only the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it.”
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