Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Five notable books on essays

Alain de Botton is the author of essays on themes ranging from love and travel to architecture and philosophy. His best-selling books include How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel, The Architecture of Happiness, and Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion.

One of five top books on essays he discussed with Jessica Mudditt for The Browser in 2009:
The Crowded Dance of Modern Life
by Virginia Woolf

We begin with The Crowded Dance of Modern Life, by Virginia Woolf, whom must people think of as a novelist.

She is also a very admirable essayist. For me, her essays are better than her novels, which I never got along with. What I particularly like are her essays of description. In “Street Haunting”, she makes a very ordinary subject, such as going for a walk around London, very charming. When you put it down the world seems a more interesting place.

I wondered if the “crowded dance” is meant to imply some sort of futility in modern life?

Not so much. Woolf was like many writers of the early 20th century, such as Joyce or Proust, who were interested in the word “modern” – a word today which we overuse. The traditions of the 19th century had been broken and the modern world was going to be governed by new things, particularly by technology. And it was going to be a predominantly urban, democratic world, dominated by the media. A writer like Woolf was both excited and worried by this. The title for me captures some of those feelings.

Is it a feminist collection?

I think to describe it as such would not be accurate. She never discusses the position or rights of women in these essays. She wrote particularly feminist essays in other books, but not in this one.
Read about another book de Botton tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue