How I Buy Books

August 16, 2009

Like any normal person, I dig through the TED archives when I can’t fall asleep at night.

(Readers, you heard it here first: when you don’t have a television in your bedroom, video apps are the next best thing.)

Which is how I stumbled upon this inspirational gem circa 5 or 6 in the morning…

Seriously, it was like this guy – Alain de Botton – knew me.

Not only did he address my own hatred of snobs – hence, the name of this site (“nonpretentious”) – he also understood my fear of that seemingly innocuous question, “What do you do for a living?”

Plus, it was like he knew my mother, my personal cheerleader and financier.  (Yes, Ladies and Gentleman, revisingproust’s mother keeps this operation ticking.)

Listening to him, I felt like a girl with a creative vision, not a fraud or an unemployed lawyer.  When I subtracted outside expectations from my definition of success, I felt rejuvenated.  …Well, actually, I felt much more calm.  And, tired.  Really.  Tired.  (Remember, it was 6 o’clock in the morning.)

I sorta forgot about de Botton until today when I watched “500 Days of Summer.”

As an aspiring architect, Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) earns a living writing greeting cards.  While it’s not a major theme of the movie, the character’s career anxiety is palpable as is his search for happiness.  Was I suprised when the camera zoomed in to reveal that the book he was reading was “The Architecture of Happiness” by Alain de Botton?  Not surprised.  Just motivated to go read something by this guy.

As soon as I came home, I scanned Amazon to find a title that spoke to me.  I’m not an architect so I thought I’d find something that matched my own pursuit of happiness.

That’s how I bought, “How Proust Can Change Your Life.”  I’ll let you know how it is.

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2 Responses to “ How I Buy Books ”

  1. _adam on August 23, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Bravo…very interesting talk, though my interpretation of his message suggests “What do you do for a living?” is loaded and not so innocuous. He seems to be attacking the self-importance we ascribe to our careers as a society and how the answer to that question ascribes social status.

    Rightly or wrongly, we put a premium on our “posts” (though judging one by their blog posts is more meritocratic than judging based on occupation ;) . Having not read de Botton’s books, I can’t speak to his thoughts on what place in a person’s life his/her career plays. However, I think it’s a better heuristic than how much money a person makes. I agree that other characteristics better describe the whole person, so, when asked, “What do you do for a living?” I suggest saying, “I do [X] most days, but my passion is [Y]” – don’t be cornered by the question!

    Also Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk (of course) on Genius (around 6 min in) discusses the “protective psychological construct” that other societies used to separate their creative accomplishments from themselves for the sake of mental self-preservation. The notion of a “divine attendant spirit” providing the creativity in our work (Daemon/Greek; Genius/Roman) served as a separation disconnecting individuals from achievements, much as randomness does for de Botton.

    Just a thought…

    P.S. – does anyone know where in St. Augustine’s “City of God” the quote “it’s a sin to judge any man by his post,” comes from? The book isn’t transcribed in the Guttenberg Project, it’s unsearchable on Google Books, and I can’t locate the quote in Marcus Dod’s translation on Amazon. The closest I found in the translation was: “[W]hen men are subjected to one another in a peaceful order, the lowly position does as much good to the servant as the proud position does to the master.” (Dods p.694; Book 19, Part 15). Not quite the same. Thanks.

  2. nonpretentious on August 23, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    I *love* Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk too.

    For those who haven’t watched it, here it is (along with some shameless self-promotion!) –

    So, what does our admiration for these two talks say about our spirituality? Anything?

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