What's the Perfect Book to Get Over a Breakup? - page 3 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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(Vincent Starr)

What's the Perfect Book to Get Over a Breakup?

Alain de Botton has provided a valuable service: giving reading prescriptions for a "shelf-help" approach to everyday problems

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(Continued from page 2)

Not necessarily. Things can be relatively counterintuitive. It might be that if you have a problem with courage, you don’t necessarily want to meet a character with a problem with courage. You might want to meet someone courageous.

It goes right to the heart of why we read. One of the reasons is we want to feel that we are not alone with an issue. But sometimes we want to understand the problem, and that’s a different thing. Sometimes we want a diversion from the problem, but a diversion that is in some way aware of the problem that it is trying to divert us from. There are different ways of coping. It is not just, I’m unhappily married; here is someone else who is unhappily married. Or I am bored, and here is someone else who is bored. It can be more imaginative.

What book has been the most therapeutic for you?

It all began with Proust [de Botton wrote a book titled How Proust Can Change Your Life.] Proust’s work In Search of Lost Time brought into focus for me all kinds of feelings and observations that I had long felt, but never grasped so clearly before. Reading his work was like putting on a pair of glasses and suddenly seeing the world more clearly.

This interview series focuses on big thinkers. Without knowing whom I will interview next, only that he or she will be a big thinker in their field, what question do you have for my next interview subject?

I guess I would ask, in what ways are you trying to change the world for the better? What is your method? And what is your diagnosis of the problem? What is wrong with the world, and what are you trying to do about it?

My last interviewee, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, a cardiologist and author of Zoobiquity spoke about the benefits of doctors and veterinarians working together. If you were to bring into your conversation a related field that does not traditionally intersect with your own, what field might that be?

I think that medicine is a fascinating one to marry up with culture and the arts, the area that I know best. We are slowly remembering that human beings are whole creatures made up of minds and bodies. When we think about healing somebody, it tends to have to be the whole person. Serious people and serious culture have been ignoring this for about 100 years. It has been left to people on the margins of scholarly life to point this out.

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