The Booktopia Book Guru asks
Alain de Botton
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Switzerland, raised speaking French, then swapped country at the age of eight and switched to English. I’ve been living in the UK ever since – desperately dreaming of living somewhere else, though ultimately always falling back on the idea of ‘better the devil you know’.
At 12, I wanted to be an architect, at 18, a writer, and now, at forty, an architect again. I’m powerfully drawn to everything related to building, but I also love ideas. These are my two passions.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I believed that the real challenge in love was finding ‘the right one’. I now realise that it’s not a case of finding the right one, so much as learning to love rightly.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
I came from a family where books were highly valued, and that set me on the path of reading. Also, my family got out there and did stuff, and so I grew up feeling that you could change things and get things done if you worked hard.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?
Twitter is certainly faster and you can reach a vast audience much faster. Nevertheless, there remains something unbeatable about the quiet immersion that a book can provoke. It can be like the best conversation you ever had with a good friend.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
It’s called RELIGION FOR ATHEISTS, it’s a look around some major world religions for things that are consoling, interesting, thought-provoking and wise. But it’s also a book written by a committed atheist – so it’s a rather unusual starting point: a non-believer’s guide to some of what is quite interesting in religion.
(BBGuru: here is the publisher’s blurb:
What if religions are neither all true nor all nonsense?
The boring debate between fundamentalist believers and non-believers is finally moved on by Alain de Botton’s inspiring new book, which boldly argues that the supernatural claims of religion are of course entirely false – and yet that religions still have some very important things to teach the secular world.
Religion for Atheists suggests that rather than mocking religions, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from them – because they’re packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies. Blending deep respect with total impiety, de Botton (a non-believer himself) proposes that we should look to religions for insights into, among other concerns, how to:
- build a sense of community
- make our relationships last
- overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy
- escape the twenty-four hour media
- go travelling
- get more out of art, architecture and music
- and create new businesses designed to address our emotional needs.
For too long non-believers have faced a stark choice between either swallowing lots of peculiar doctrines or doing away with a range of consoling and beautiful rituals and ideas.
At last, in Religion for Atheists, Alain de Botton, the author of the bestselling The Consolations Of Philosophy and How Proust Can Change Your Life, has fashioned a far more interesting and truly helpful alternative.)
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
I want to persuade people that Culture, broadly defined (literature, philosophy, art, theatre, photography etc.) can be used as a guide to how to live. I believe in the practical application of Culture, Culture as self-help.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
The Scottish Australian philosopher John Armstrong. He’s quite simply the cleverest person I’ve ever come to know. I don’t mean clever in some Einstein way, I mean, as someone to air any problem, great or small, with.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To make www.theschooloflife.com a global brand (to open a branch in Australia). To make www.living-architecture.co.uk flourish. To write good books.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Be ambitious beyond merely dreaming of the first book being published. Already now try to imagine where you want this to go, where you want to be at 60.
Alain, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.