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100 Things Guys Need to Know1001 Solution-Focused Questions101 Ways to Meditate17 Lies That Are Holding You Back29 Gifts8 Keys to Stress ManagementA Layman's Guide to Managing FearA Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning AutismA User Guide to the GF/CF Diet for Autism, Asperger Syndrome and AD/HDADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeAddiction and ChangeAddiction Recovery ToolsADHD Grown UpAdolescent DepressionAdvanced Sexual TechniquesAfter SuicideAfter the Ecstasy, the LaundryAge-Proof Your MindAnswers for AristotleAnxiety, Phobias, and PanicAre You Fully Charged?Authentic HappinessAwakening Self-EsteemBe Honest--You're Not That Into Him EitherBeating the BluesBecoming OrgasmicBeen There, Done That? 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NaaahTen Minutes to RelaxThank You for Being Such a PainThe 10 Best Anxiety BustersThe 5 Reasons Why We OvereatThe 7 Secrets of the ProlificThe Anger WorkbookThe Antidepressant Survival ProgramThe Art of Becoming HumanThe Art of Exceptional LivingThe Beginner's Guide to Healthy EatingThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Betty Ford Center Book of AnswersThe Bipolar Disorder Survival GuideThe Breakout PrincipleThe Bully, the Bullied, and the BystanderThe Chronic Pain SolutionThe Complete Vegetarian HandbookThe Consolations of PhilosophyThe Core Question: Who Am I?The Crowdsourced Performance ReviewThe Emotional Eater's Repair ManualThe Emotional RevolutionThe End-of-Life HandbookThe Essential Guide to Prescription Drugs 2005The Essential KamasutraThe Feeling Good HandbookThe Five Things We Cannot Change ...The Game of TruthThe Gift of FearThe Gift of ShynessThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Guide for International Intercultural Couples and Families Intercultural MarriageThe Happy Hook-UpThe Healing JourneyThe Healing Journey for CouplesThe Healing Journey Through GriefThe Healing Power of PetsThe Identity CodeThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Inside Story on Teen GirlsThe Introvert AdvantageThe Intuitive WriterThe Irritable Male SyndromeThe Jewel Tree of TibetThe Joy of MeditatingThe Last Self-Help Book You'll Ever NeedThe Light of DiscoveryThe Little Book of Healthy TeasThe Little Yoga BookThe Magic of Thinking BigThe Making of Dr. PhilThe Male Stress Survival GuideThe Money WorkbookThe Mood CureThe Mozart EffectThe Myth of Self-EsteemThe New Cancer SurvivorsThe New Rational TherapyThe OASIS Guide to Asperger SyndromeThe OCD WorkbookThe Passion PlanThe Pilates Workout JournalThe Pill Book Guide to Natural MedicinesThe Places That Scare YouThe Pocket Life CoachThe Porn TrapThe Power of FocusThe Power of Full EngagementThe Power of Negative ThinkingThe Power of PlayThe Power of Self-CoachingThe Pursuit of PerfectThe Quest for Peace, Love, and a 24'' WaistThe Real Rules for GirlsThe Secret of LifeThe Secret Strength of DepressionThe Self ImprovedThe Self-Compassion Skills WorkbookThe Self-Help SourcebookThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Spa DeckThe Stoic Art of LivingThe Stress CureThe Stress Less WorkbookThe Stress Owner's ManualThe Stress Reduction Workbook for TeensThe SuperStress SolutionThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Therapy for the SaneThe Truth About Chronic PainThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Van Gogh BluesThe Way of StretchingThe Way of the JournalThe Way of TransitionThe Weblog HandbookThe Why CaféThe Worst-Case Scenario Survival HandbookThere's a Spiritual Solution to Every ProblemThings Might Go Terribly, Horribly WrongThink Confident, Be ConfidentThink NakedThink SmartThinking for a ChangeThis Is HowTotal PilatesTrain Your Brain to Get HappyTrain Your Brain to Get RichTransformation Trauma in the Lives of ChildrenUltimate SexUnderstanding the Borderline MotherUndoing DepressionUnhappy TeenagersUnlock the Genius WithinUntangling the WebVirtual AddictionWaking Up to What You DoWay to Be!What We Say MattersWhat Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Holding You Back? When a Family Member Has DementiaWhen a Parent is DepressedWhen in Doubt, Make BeliefWhen Perfect Isn't Good EnoughWhen Someone You Love Is DepressedWhen Things Fall ApartWhen Words Are Not EnoughWhen Your Body Gets the BluesWhen Your Child Has an Eating DisorderWherever You Go, There You AreWhy Can't I Change?Why Is It Always About You?Why Smart Executives FailWorried All the TimeWoulda, Coulda, ShouldaWriting as a Sacred PathWriting in FlowWriting to HealYes, Your Teen Is Crazy!Yoga 4 TeensYoga as MedicineYoga for EveryoneYoga for MeditatorsYoga for OsteoporosisYoga for Pain ReliefYoga for Regular Guys DVDYoga for the Young at HeartYoga on DemandYoga Weight Loss for DummiesYou Are Not AloneYou Are Not Your IllnessYou Can Think Yourself ThinYou'll See It When You Believe ItYour Body Speaks Your MindYour Brain on FoodYour Child, Bully or Victim?Zen Sex
The subtitle of this small book ,"Not a Novel", slyly hints at the authors sophistication and playfulness. A more naïve being might ask why a "how to" title, with its suggestion of the self-improvement genre, needs to be followed by such a disclaimer. After all, no book promising our betterment could possibly be a piece of fiction; it must contain reliable truths, or we are lost! But have I fallen into de Botton's trap, assuming that 'change' means improvement, whereas he may simply mean 'difference'? Anyway, I can assure the reader that How Proust Can Change Your Life is not shelved among the self-help books; you will find it where it belongs, in the literature section of your bookstore (I checked).
De Botton actually undermines his chosen title, as much of his text points out the unavoidable discrepancy between the life and the work of a writer. Each chapter, with titles such as "How to Love Life Today, How to Suffer Successfully, How to Be a Good Friend", illustrates how Proust failed to apply the wisdom embodied in his fiction to his own life. This would be a trite theme, if it were not for de Botton's ability to transcend the facts of one particular, flawed life to discuss the nature of the artistic imagination and the way in which its truths would cause social disaster, should the writer try to live them. The other point de Botton makes is that reading great fiction can indeed change our life, not by offering psychological pointers, but by expressing things we only half know: "The value of a novel is not limited to its depiction of emotions and people akin to those in our own life; it stretches to an ability to describe these far better than we would have been able, to put a finger on perceptions that we recognize as our own, but could not have formulated on our own" (page 28; de Botton's stress). De Botton's observations are rarely original, but with his wonderful writing style, he creates the illusion of novelty, and we forgive him for taking us back to the aesthetics of an earlier age.
How Proust Can Change Your Life is a rather chatty literary essay, whose primary function is to express the author's profound admiration for Proust, reader-centered disguise notwithstanding. This disguise helps De Botton avoid being tiresomely adulatory (he lets Virginia Woolf lavish praise for him, as if to say, "you don't have to take it from me..."). While pretending to be writing a guidebook for self-enlightenment, de Botton rather cleverly deflects the attention of his readers away from himself, and, ultimately, even away from the person Marcel Proust, and toward Prousts Remembrance of Things Past. He comes across as a careful, but strangely old-fashioned reader. No hints of modern depth psychology are to be found, but instead an acceptance of Proust's own view of humanity, couched in psychological terms current in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. De Botton finds Proust's life and character endlessly fascinating. As one would expect from an admirer, he tends to treat his subject's faults very generously. For example (and this affects the work as much as the life) the lover Proust is horribly immature, virtually adolescent. De Botton notes Proust's narrow view of love, but refrains from criticism, or any hint that arrested development in such a crucial domain might invalidate Proust's credentials as a life-changer. Of course, Proust never claimed to have such credentials in any case.
I think de Botton would agree that, in the final analysis, Proust can change one's life only if one enters his fictional world. The elegant texture, fascinating biographical tidbits and entertaining tone of How Proust Can Change Your Life will lead more readers to Remembrance of Things Past than would any straitlaced, theory-laden study of its three thousand pages or their author. And if we take de Botton's title very literally, we can expect Proust's novel to make a difference.
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