Over the course of a 23-year literary career, Swiss-born London-based Alain de Botton developed a style of writing wholly his own. De Botton’s central theme: love. His latest work, The Course of Love, continues in that vein. He reads from it on September 17, 9pm at Haus der Berliner Festspiele.
Who should stay away from your latest book and why?
Anyone who is entirely happy with their relationships and has never stayed up late wondering what it all means and why love can be so painful. Anyone who would rather have their nails pulled than look into themselves.
Least favourite praise/favourite criticism about your work?
Favourite criticism: “It reads like a psychoanalytic case study.” What a compliment!
Least favourite praise: “I am buying it for my parents.”
Describe the genesis of your books. How do you get started?
I don’t start with the characters, I start with the ideas and try to take the reader on a journey from immaturity to maturity around love. I try to show that love is a skill – and not merely an enthusiasm.
Why do you write?
To try to make sense of emotions that might otherwise prove overwhelming. To stay (relatively) sane.
Where do you write?
Pretty much anywhere, mostly on an old Blackberry phone, which has replaced pen and paper.
When do you write?
Often in the middle of the night. Thoughts are like shy deer. They don’t come out in bright light.
What do you need to write?
Pain is a wonderful stimulant for writing.
A recurring literary nightmare?
To be accused of plagiarism.
Describe your first memory of writing…
I was eight and keeping a diary of my holidays. I had no capacity for introspection, so it was very boring.
If you weren’t a writer you’d be…
An architect, trying to order the world through spaces rather than words.
Your favourite and least favourite word?
Favourite: “melancholy” – it’s a state we should make friends with. My least favourite is “allegiance”, because I can never spell it.
Your favourite literary character?
I love Madame Bovary, because she is flawed and yet so touching in what she longs for.
Which book do you wish you had written?
ilan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Choose an epitaph: