Alain de Botton, FRSL, is an award-winning author, philosopher, educator and dapper owner of what is arguably the most unflappable Twitter account in existence. His first novel Essays in Love (1993) was released shortly after his graduation from university, and his newest book Religion for Atheists was published by Hamish Hamilton in January 2012.
1. Best book about trips or journeys.
The finest book is the second volume of Marcel Proust's very long novel, In Search of Lost Time. This charts the journey of the narrator to the (fictionalised) Normandy beach resort of Balbec - and pays particular attention to all those emotions we feel as we travel by train, then approach our destination and eventually settle for the night in a new and unfamiliar hotel room.
2. Which book are you mostly likely to pick as your ultimate survival manual?
I like a good stoic philosopher like Seneca or Marcus Aurelius. These guys are pessimistic, courageous and ready for anything.
3. Which author would you most like to go on a vacation with, and what would you be doing?
I'd love to go on holiday with Virginia Woolf. She'd be super observant, catty, fun - and (on good day) excellent company. We'd gossip about our fellow guests in a hotel, eavesdrop on people in shops and (perhaps) try some jetskiing, which Woolf would describe with great style and elegance.
4. The Lord of the Flies was once described as embodying the "diversity and universality of.. the human condition in the world of today". Which character do you reckon you are most like?
I've unfortunately never read this book. I went to boarding school which is routinely described as "like Lord of the Flies" so it put me off the book, sadly.
5. If there was one book you had to burn for firewood, which would it be?
I'd happily burn all of Thackeray. It's simply not funny or especially revelatory.
6. Which paragraph or line from a novel would you choose for your final 'message in a bottle'?
I like Seneca's: "What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears."
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