Philosophy isn’t every reader’s cup of tea, and contemporary philosophy, in particular, can leave even careful, motivated readers feeling a little woozy. Because some people’s minds just don’t spin this way, I wouldn’t normally recommend the works of a nonfiction writer inclined to philosophy to a book group.
Alain de Botton is an exception. The works of this Swiss-born writer, columnist, and television commentator are concise, thoughtful, and entertaining. They are diverse, covering subject including literature, architecture, travel, material culture, and work. If you encourage readers to pick up something by de Botton, everyone in your group should be able to find something of interest. His prose is lucid, employing short, clear sentences and interspersed with marvelous descriptive examples.
De Botton first became known for How Proust Can Change Your Life, a mixture of literary biography and self-help. Taking examples and inspiration from Proust, it addresses topics such as appreciating the current moment, enjoying your love life, how to suffer well, and when to put the books aside. It’s funny and articulate like a great late night conversation with friends.
The Art of Travel covers the parts they leave out of the typical guidebook: not where, but how and why we should travel. He discusses the joy of anticipation, the search for beauty, and how appreciation of travel can make our lives back home more enjoyable. In particular, de Botton explores the art of seeing, and how travel makes us better at this important life skill. He has a gift for finding apt historical references to illustrate his points.
The Architecture of Happiness turns to architecture, exploring how good and bad buildings and design make our lives better or worse and what constitutes good architecture. He’s not dogmatic about a particular period or style, but instead makes a case for how good architecture changes with the context. He bolsters his arguments with a great selection of photographs from the many examples he employs.
These are just a few of de Botton’s titles. Status Anxiety, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, The Consolations of Philosophy, and a novel On Love are also part of his ouevre. His newest book, not due in the U.S. until later this year, is A Week at the Airport, which stems from the time he spent at a terminal desk, appointed as “writer-in-residence” for Heathrow Airport in London. Give a meeting of your group’s time to this thoughtful writer. I suspect that the majority of your readers will come away feeling just a little more able to cope with or appreciate aspects of their everyday lives.