Updated Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 07:31 AM
“How to Think More about Sex”
by Alain de Botton
Picador, 185 pp., $16
In England, Alain de Botton isn’t just an author. He’s a whole cottage industry.
Several of his books have spawned TV documentaries he wrote, produced and hosted. In 2008 he founded The School of Life, a London-based organization concerned with “offering good ideas for everyday life.” Those ideas now take book form in a series he edits examining “the great issues of life, including money, sanity, work, technology, and the desire to alter the world for the better.”
First up are psychotherapist Philippa Perry’s “How to Stay Sane” and de Botton’s own “How to Think More about Sex.” Perry’s book advocates diligent self-observation as a way to acknowledge and manage your feelings, rather than suppressing them or letting them grab the reins in your life. De Botton’s concerns a particular corner and phase of sexual life: that of a straight married couple in their 40s with children.
As in his last book, “Religion for Atheists,” de Botton is so insistent on the difficulties built into marriage that you can’t help feeling he’s making veiled reference to some marital trouble of his own.
That said, he has plenty of lively points to offer, and he offers them with consummate wit and flair. He’s alert to paradox – for instance, to how kinky sex-play can be a way of “building a paradise of mutual acceptance” — and he pinpoints the problematic gulf between sexual life and workaday life.
“Sex can throw the challenges we face into almost unbearably high relief,” he says, noting how tricky it can be to shift gears from erotic transport to child-care duty and crises at the office.
Addressing impotence, adultery, Freudian theory, evolutionary biology and Internet porn (surprisingly, he favors censoring it), he may not convince his readers on every score. But his takes on his subject are candid, agile and fresh.