The Art of Travel - Reviews
Robert Birnbaum on indentitytheory.com, August 2002
Alain de Botton is the author of six books, three of them ostensibly novels: On Love, The Romantic Movement and Kiss and Tell. His first non-fiction book, How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel, was an international bestseller and was published in 20 languages. He has also written The Consolations of Philosophy and recently has published The Art of Travel. Alain de Botton was born in Zurich, Switzerland and educated in Switzerland and England. He lives in London and has a teaching post at London University and a regular column in The Independent on Sunday. His next book, Status Anxiety, is tentatively scheduled for publication in 2004.
The Art Of Travel is divided into sections on Departure, Motives, Landscape, Art and Return.
ROBERT BIRNBAUM: You at one time wrote fiction.
ALAIN DE BOTTON: Uh huh.
RB: Have you given it up?
AB: Pretty much. I wrote fiction that wasn't really fiction. It was sold as fiction. I wrote essayistic stuff.
RB: I read Kiss & Tell. That was essayistic?
AB: Well, yes. I think so. Really, it was a reflection on different ideas. The point was not the plot so much as the ideas in it.
RB: Well, it more closely resembles fiction than what you have gone on to write since then.
AB: Exactly. Nevertheless, it wasn't totally straight fiction and I suppose I was just trying to move closer to what I felt was where my real interests lay. Which is in a non-fiction structure but which can allow for a certain amount of personal digressions and descriptions and some of the things that tend to belong in a novel.
RB: Where are your books placed in bookstores?
AB: All over the place. The philosophy book is in the philosophy section.
RB: Is The Consolations of Philosophy a philosophy book?
AB: Well, it doesn't belong under philosophy as defined by the Anglo American 20th century view of philosophy. It certainly isn't philosophy from that point of view. But it is philosophy as defined by the man in the street and Socrates. There is a striking congruence between what the man in the street and what Socrates seemed to think that philosophy is and the current professorial view is slightly out there.
RB: And the Proust book is filed under literary criticism?
AB: It tends to be. Or else it is shelved next to Proust.
RB: I ask you this because when I have talked to Jonathan Raban—if you want to fire him up—just tell him you think he is a great travel writer.
AB: Right. What does he think he is?
RB: I don't recall he has made a declaration. I assume he sees himself as a writer. Tell me about The Art of Travel. Was there another title considered?
AB: Not really. I was searching for a title for a while and then the title came to me.
RB: Searching for the title when you began, as you were writing, when you were finished?
AB: As I was writing. Really the idea for the book— it wasn't that I set out with the idea that I'm going to cover the theme of travel. What I wanted to do was to cover certain feelings that we have in certain places, the psychology of places. That could be the subtitle. I was looking around for a form in which to gather together these thoughts and it seemed to me that travel is one of the times that we experience different feelings about different places. So that's really the unity. I would get annoyed—well not annoyed—I'd think that people would miss the point if they said, "But you haven't covered packing." I hadn't covered th