Exclusive Interview - AbeBooks Speaks With Author Alain de Botton
What’s your favourite second-hand bookshop? (And why)
What role does finding interesting books off the beaten track play in your life?
...As a thinker, I also tend to be inspired by things that I can see happening in and around me.
What has been your most interesting find on AbeBooks?
Is there one particular book that you want but have yet to find?
Your books examine everyday life - why does that subject fascinate you?
What other areas of everyday life particularly appeal to you?
...we rely on signs of respect from the world to feel acceptable to ourselves.
Who else has interesting things to say about everyday aspects of modern life?
You must be a committed people-watcher? If so, how do you observe people?
Is ‘Status Anxiety’ a purely British phenomenon?
Ultimately, we worry about having no status because we’re not good at remaining confident about ourselves if other people don’t seem to like or respect us very much. Our ‘ego’ or self-conception could be pictured as a leaking balloon, forever requiring external love to remain inflated and vulnerable to the smallest pinpricks of neglect: we rely on signs of respect from the world to feel acceptable to ourselves.
While it would be unusual to be status anxious in a famine, history shows that as soon as societies go any way beyond basic subsistence, status anxieties quickly kick in. In the modern world, status anxiety starts when we compare our achievements with those of other people we consider to be our equals. We might worry about our status when we come across an enthusiastic newspaper profile of an acquaintance (it can destroy the morning), when a close friend reveals a piece of what they naively – or plain sadistically – call ‘good’ news (they have been promoted, they are getting married, they have reached the bestseller list) or when we are asked what we ‘do’ at a party by someone with a firm handshake who has recently floated their own start-up company.
Does ‘Status Anxiety’ extend to yourself?
Is the phenomenon of ‘Status Anxiety’ getting worse?
...Aside from love, few events are anticipated more eagerly, nor form the subject of more complex or enriching daydreams than our travels.
Of course, it remains highly unlikely that we will today ever reach the pinnacle of society. It is perhaps as unlikely that we could rival the success of Bill Gates as that we could in the seventeenth century have become as powerful as Louis XIV. Unfortunately though, it no longer feels unlikely – depending on the magazines one reads, it can in fact seem absurd that one hasn’t already managed to have it all.
Have people commented that The Art of Travel has changed their perception of being on the move?
But of course the reality of travel seldom matches the daydreams. The tragi-comic disappointments are well-known: the sense of disorientation, the mid-afternoon despair, the arguments, the lethargy before ancient ruins. When we look at pictures of places we want to go and see (and imagine how happy we would be if only we were there), we are prone to forget one crucial thing: that we will have to take ourselves along with us. That is, we won’t just be in India/South Africa/Australia/Prague/Peru in a direct, unmediated way, we’ll be there with ourselves, still imprisoned in our own bodies and minds – with all the problems this entails.
Do the travel requirements of being an author make travel mundane for you?
Was there a single journey or trip that inspired you to write The Art of Travel?
If you couldn’t write, what alternative profession would appeal to you?
I’ve been searching in recent years for how to give shape to my ideas outside of just books. For example, I’m currently writing a book on architecture, and rather than just argue for what I think is beautiful, I would like to enact my vision in the real world. I’m therefore involved with some people, discussing opportunities for how to develop properties.
I’m also keen one day to start a new kind of university, what I’m calling The University of Life, which would align what is taught in the humanities more closely with people’s everyday concerns.
Learn More About Alain de Botton [More About Alain de Botton]
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