Thursday, June 15, 2006

Reading. de Botton.

I used to always see Alain de Botton mentioned in various British magazines, and I would misread his name as Bottom. Oh, I thought, there's that British writer with the funny name again. I'd never read his books. Until the day when I happened to be crouching on the floor at the bookstore, peering at the titles on the bottom shelf, looking for something by Borges (as it so often happens) and finding instead a tiny little book by that Bottom guy (as I still persist in thinking of him) called On Love. Its black, red, and white cover attracted my eye; the title made me smile. I flipped through, scanned the first few pages, and began to laugh.

I have a terrible weakness for books with Love in the title. I had to have this one. (The week I found it, I was simultaneously reading three books with the word love in the title).

The original (British) title is Essays in Love, instead of On Love, but I am not sure which version I prefer. I love the brevity, the simplicity of the latter. But the former makes more sense when you see the novel itself unfolding like a series of essays, explaining every moment from the beginning of a love affair, through its course, the eventual, inevitable disintegration, the end, and the aftermath. The layout, the writing, the episodic essay-like chapters leave it feeling less line a novel and more like a dissertation on love. Through it all de Botton's narrator details all the minutiae of his relationship with Chloe, every feeling from attraction to irritation to absolute and complete love, every little thing he notices about her. Every stage, every moment is relived, from their first meeting on an airplane (complete with diagram of the airplane and statistics on the probablility of their meeting), to his imagined scenarios of his death after their breakup. The writing is so clear and funny and beautiful and light that it leaves me feeling weightless love.

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