In Praise Of Pithy: Books For Short Attention Spans Literary life is dominated by the great big novel, but who has time for that? These three books remind us of the value of the neglected but highly timely genre of the maxim.
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In Praise Of Pithy: Books For Short Attention Spans

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In Praise Of Pithy: Books For Short Attention Spans

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In Praise Of Pithy: Books For Short Attention Spans

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Philosopher Alain De Botton is best known for his book "How Proust Can Change Your Life." He is a great fan of the aphorism. So today for our series Three Books, where authors recommend books on a single theme, De Botton tells us about three books which all feature clever observations.

ALAIN DE BOTTON: As we get ever more pressed for time, it seems that authors take delight in burdening us with ever-longer books. That's why I've always been a particular fan of authors who've written maxims: pithy brief sayings and reflections that can be gulped down in a few moments by the most impatient of travelers.

The art of the maxim had perhaps its greatest practitioner in the 17th century, with the publication of La Rochefoucauld's "Maxims." To read La Rochefoucauld is like sucking the juice from the bitterest lime and enjoying it.

R: We all have strength enough to bear the misfortunes of others.

Friedrich Nietzsche is hardly a name associated with easy beach reading, but one of his most approachable books was directly inspired by La Rochefoucauld. His "Human, All-Too-Human" is easily his most readable book. The writing is crisp, witty and consolingly bleak.

Here is a flavor of what's inside: Some men have sighed over the abduction of their wives; most, however, over the fact that no one wanted to abduct them.

Here's another: There will be few who, when they are in want of matter for conversation, do not reveal the more secret affairs of their friends.

Cyril Connolly's "The Unquiet Grave" is my third recommendation for those who have trouble holding a long thought. The book is a seductive mixture of diary, commonplace book, essay, travelogue and memoir with a balance of the best aphorisms.

There is no fury like an ex-wife searching for a new lover. The charm of the work lies in the narrator's mischievous, melancholy tone as he shifts between the sublime and the banal.

Literary life is still dominated by the idea of the great big novel. The genius of my three authors is to remind us of the value of the neglected, but highly timely, genre of the aphorism.

BLOCK: Alain De Botton is the author of "How Proust Can Change Your Life." He recommended these three books: "Maxims," by Francois de La Rochefoucauld; "Human, All-Too-Human," by Friedrich Nietzsche; and "The Unquiet Grave," by Cyril Connolly. You can find more Three Books recommendations at NPR.org.

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