Book Club: At The Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell

At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, follows the very same tone of its title throughout the book. Heavy philosophical concepts are interwoven with humour, autobiographical storytelling and lightness to create a book about philosophy that doesn’t get boring or too heavy – a book that doesn’t need you to take multiple breaks to muster up the willpower to continue challenging your brain so consistently. We all know how tedious that can get. But Sarah Bakewell cleverly makes learning about philosophy engaging and fun and provides the perfect introduction to existentialism without overloading the reader.

The book opens with a scene between Sartre, Beauvoir, and Aron in a cocktail bar: a scene that is heralded as the birthplace of existentialism. We are given a window through time, back to the 1930s-50s, where a multitude of philosophers and thinkers are introduced to us. Their lives, thoughts, and life events are explained so well that you feel as though you have gone back in time and made friends with them all. The book also altered the way I look at the world. Multiple times while reading At The Existentialist Café I would look up from it, look around wherever I was – be it my room, or a train, or a coach – and I would see my surroundings differently to how I had seen them before I had read those pages. How often can you say that about a book?

And in the same way it made me see the world differently, Bakewell helped me to see myself differently too. Whilst the philosophy and thought was incredibly interesting, applying it to myself and my life was equally as wonderful; parts of the book inspired me to start existing in the world and in my body in the exact way I wish, and other parts inspired me to follow the multiple threads laid out that allowed for the world of existentialism and phenomenology to be explored. I was left with a list of films, books, and people to discover more deeply, and with an excitement about how the way I view the world can keep transforming. Ultimately, this book is the very first exciting step into the world of existentialism. It gives you just enough to be in the know, but little enough to push you to learn more, and in finding that balance Bakewell has truly created something amazing with this book.

Joanna Kamal

Image: Amazon

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