How to be alone by Jonathan Franzen isn’t as lonely or instructive as the title sounds. Actually, it is a collection of his published essays through 2002. The overarching theme for all the essays is that they were published by Franzen. He covers dementia and Alzheimer’s, the Chicago US Postal Service, privacy, sex books, smoking and the tobacco industry, super max prisons, and several other essays that examine different slices or memories of Franzen’s life–including the Oprah incident over The corrections when he turned down letting her use it for her book club (he remedied that by giving her Freedom for her book club instead). At the end of his explanation of the revision and expansion to the paperback version I own, Franzen explains that the connection of the essays is the collection’s title:
“But the local particulars of content matter less to me than the underlying investigation in all these essays: the problem of preserving individuality and complexity in a noisy and distracting mass culture: the question of how to be alone.”
Collections of essays, or even non-fiction for that matter, aren’t my normal reading diet but I couldn’t pass up a Franzen book, regardless of what it held between its covers. I enjoyed them all. They are dense, extremely well-crafted morsels of his writing. If you haven’t read a Franzen novels, this will give you a taste how he writes.
However, the continuity is odd. There aren’t intros or explanations before any of the essays and for me this meant a mixed bag of topics, like not looking while reaching into a Halloween candy bag filled with loot and not knowing what you’ll pick out (it is October already!). Story and plot line are still my favorite, so this book won’t get me to read essay collections regularly. Yet I will start including them more in my reading lists if they are of particular interest. If they covered one topic or subject then perhaps I’d enjoy a collection more. Reading various essays that Franzen published in greta literary magazines, though, was a treat. This one will hit my re-read list because it seems like a book in which I will learn and enjoy it more each time through since he fits his amazing sentences full of great ideas as well as language and multiple reads would further sort out the denseness.
Recommend it?: For general readers, probably. I wouldn’t call this a quick read but it’s an interesting one, and if you’re willing to take the essay topics as they come then it’s for you. Franzen fans definitely must read this because he pours much of his self into the essays throughout and has several that go into his personal life and why he writes.
* It’s been a while since the last post–nearly two months! After I sorted my bookshelf and pulled out the ones on this list for 2012 Reads, I’m more motivated than ever to finish this project. I’m at 7 books read so far and will pick up speed here on out!
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace update:
When I began this project, I was on page 80-something in February and now reached 297. A little over two-hundread pages might not sound like a lot but go try reading the book yourself and you’ll see. Will I finish this on by year’s end? Wait and see… I’m on footnote 100-something, since they are crucial to the storyline, backstory, and as clarification.