Read books How to Be Alone: Essays By Jonathan Franzen –

From The National Book Award Winning Author Of The Corrections, A Collection Of Essays That Reveal Him To Be One Of Our Sharpest, Toughest, And Most Entertaining Social CriticsWhile The Essays In This Collection Range In Subject Matter From The Sex Advice Industry To The Way A Supermax Prison Works, Each One Wrestles With The Essential Themes Of Franzen S Writing The Erosion Of Civil Life And Private Dignity And The Hidden Persistence Of Loneliness In Postmodern, Imperial America Reprinted Here For The First Time Is Franzen S Controversial L Investigation Of The Fate Of The American Novel In What Became Known As The Harper S Essay, As Well As His Award Winning Narrative Of His Father S Struggle With Alzheimer S Disease, And A Rueful Account Of His Brief Tenure As An Oprah Winfrey Author

10 thoughts on “How to Be Alone: Essays

  1. says:

    B 75% More than Satisfactory Notes A scrapbook patchwork of previously published prose, lucid though largely forgettable, and expectedly hit and miss.

  2. says:

    Ok, Jonathan Franzen WE GET IT You re a martyr for truth and beauty and all that is good because you read books and don t like technology and smoke cigarettes and still use a rotary telephone You are a superior human being because you don t watch t.v You could ve said that all in one paragraph, but you chose to do it in 300 palpably crotchety, Andy Rooney esque pages As Shruti rightly pointed out, it is surprisingly refreshing to read an author who annoys the shit out of you, especially with such hilariously self righteous statements as We don t blame the audience for defecting, we know it hurts to have to stay conscious, we understand the need to drug yourself, to feel the warmth of up to the minute hipness or whatever Ha I kind of love how ridiculous that sounds.

  3. says:

    How To Be Alone a.k.a., How To Make Some Quick Cash Between NovelsFull disclosure I love Jonathan Franzen, novelist The Corrections and Freedom are two of my favourite novels written in the past couple of decades And I can t wait to read his new book, out this fall.But that s Novelist Franzen Do I really need to read Essayist Franzen Especially when his prose is often fussy, whiny and awkward Here are two random passages from his uneven 2002 collection, How To Be Alone take a deeeeep breath, folks That a distrust or an outright hatred of what we now call literature has always been a mark of social visionaries, whether Plato or Stalin or today s freemarket technocrats, can lead us to think that literature has a function, beyond entertainment, as a form of social opposition. and These lines are redolent with depression and the sense of estrangement from humanity that depression fosters Nothing aggravates this estrangement than a juggernaut of hipness such as television has created and the digital revolution s marketers are exploiting. Ouch Reading prose like this, I go into editor teaching assistant mode and want to write Simpler language or What are you trying to say in the margins.So, yeah, not a total fan of Essayist Franzen What about Franzen The Man I partly hoped these essays might give me a glimpse or two at the guy behind the fiction And they did, up to a point.The first essay, My Father s Brain, explores Alzheimer s disease, and draws on Franzen s memories his late father, who had the disease For most of this piece he remains coldly clinical, until a simple moving passage near the end that displays the grace and humanity of his best fiction.I also enjoyed reading his curmudgeonly essay about being an owner of near obsolete technology a rotary phone, an old stereo that plays vinyl In another article he talks about throwing out his old Sony Trinitron The guy s old school, and not for any hipster reasons I admired his long essay about the author William Gaddis JR, The Recognitions , in which he brings up valid points about how we approach difficult fiction This gives you some insight into his own approach to writing.And then there s the infamous Harper s essay chronicling the author s growing despair with the American novel, his disillusionment with the publishing industry and the media covering it and a reading public that has a dwindling attention span The situation seems even dire today, what with Twitter and Facebook, the explosion of cable and streaming services and binge watching TV It s a fascinating, if occasionally baggy one of those awkward quotes above was taken from it essay, which uses Paula Fox s 1970 novel Desperate Characters as a springboard to make its points And there are some intriguing theories about reading and social isolation The essay s companion piece is another famous essay, one he wrote after being dis invited from the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, which had chosen The Corrections as one of their selections before he publicly criticized it This vivid and immediate piece is a dark satire about the book and author as manipulated product It cleverly uses a couple of images a memorial tree, a dish of peas in the refrigerator to comment on memory, privacy and the soul sucking nature of consumerist TV.And then, well then there s the rest.A long article about Chicago s terribly inefficient postal system is interesting, but Franzen didn t have to write it it s a disposable piece of journalism, neither especially good nor bad Ditto about a piece on Big Tobacco, which the author personalizes a little by talking about his attempts to quit smoking Or an article on the prison industrial complex Other essays about the changing idea of the city, or an already dated piece about living in the digital age feel like extended book reviews, of the kind published in The New York Review Of Books Occasionally an essay s subject will be make you think of a theme from one of his novels But the ideas feel organic when they re integrated into plot and character.Most of these pieces lack any sense of urgency or passion they feel like assignments dashed off between his serious, and lasting, works They re brief jobs, not part of any a calling.

  4. says:


  5. says:

    This review has been revised and can now be found at

  6. says:

    A girlfriend took this with her after we broke up along with many, many other books of mine So I guess she did a far better job of teaching me how to be alone than Mr Franzen ever could.

  7. says:

    Franzen hits the target when literature is being discussed The career making accidental cri de coeur Why Bother and The Reader in Exile and the Gaddis love in cum demolition Mr Difficult are all sublime pieces, if a little uncertain The reflective, personal essays show Franzen s likeable man on the street intellectualism, especially the Alzheimer s piece My Father s Brain and the hilarious Oprah era insight Meet Me in St Louis He is less successful when broadsheet feature writing Lost in the Mail and Control Units are niche articles written in a by the numbers journalistic style, with only a few flashes of insight When it comes to presenting a non personal alien experience, Franzen is no Foster Wallace On the whole, a solid compilation of honest and entertaining if unmemorable non fic licks.

  8. says:

    Perchance to BotherThis isn t so much a review of the collection of essays called How to Be Alone , but some responses to one of the essays, Why Bother also known as The Harpers Essay or Perchance to Dream.I ve probably read the essay in one form or another half a dozen times since it was first published in 1996 I have to admit that each time the experience has become less satisfactory.The essay is 42 pages long Franzen cut about 25% of the Harper s Essay and changed its name.Still, the essay reveals a mind in flux rather than a mind that had come to a persuasive conclusion.There is nothing wrong with failing to come to a conclusion, as long as your liberty, life or limb don t depend on one However, reading the essay is like watching a saucepan boil and trying to attribute value to every bubble The exercise could have been a lot shorter and rewarding for the reader if, with the benefit of hindsight, Franzen had known what he wanted to say or where he wanted his journey to take him.Desperate AuthorsThe essay starts with despair and ends with an inadequately defined embrace of community In a way, he hints that his journey has taken him from perdition to salvation.However, did it really, and if so, how did it do it His despair is described as a despair about the American novel However, even this statement, his very first paragraph, comes across as disingenuous, because in the very next sentence, he reveals that he and his wife had recently separated Later, they reconcile, separate again and eventually divorce So the reader has to wonder to what extent his dissatisfaction with the state of the novel reflects the objective state of the novel, his inability to say what he wants to say in a novel of his own, or his unhappiness with his lot in life Was he just projecting his own despair onto the state of the novel How narcissistic was he Or was he just being ironic Perchance to Dream of EscapeFranzen s initial response was to dream of escape I wanted to hide from America The singular state of the novel is compounded in the united states of America No matter where he tried to hide, he discovered no haven He felt he needed to be alone He needed to retreat to a monastery, not to recover or to prepare for some achievement, but to dream, self indulgently, without the accountability that living in the real world insists on.His vision comes to him as he reads the words of a character in Paula Fox novel, Desperate Characters God, if I am rabid, I am equal to what is outside Franzen, in the midst of his state of despair, can be no worse and no better than society His crumbling marriage is no different from the crumbling social order Still, he manages to ask whether his distress derives from an internal sickness or the sickness of society Does he blame himself or does he blame society He doesn t really answer the question, for he recognises in his approach the desire to connect the personal and the social.He has equated the two in adversity and despair The challenge is to connect them in prosperity.From a DistanceThe irony is that Franzen didn t so much try to join society on its own terms, to become one of them or one of us He continued to relate to society, to them, to us, as a writer looking on it from a distance The only compromise he considered was to move a step from dark and contrarian to culturally engaged.Society rewarded him with the silence of irrelevance He responded to its diffidence by wondering whether the slow work of writing and reading had become incompatible with the hyperkinesis of modern life He gets depressed He speculates that the novelist has and to say to readers who have less and less time to read Where to find the energy to engage with a culture in crisis when the crisis consists in the impossibility of engaging with the culture A Solitary ManFranzen recognises that the essence of fiction is solitary work Then he realizes that the rest of society has also sought refuge in an atomized privacy.While we might embrace virtual communities as a remedy for our atomization, he tends to regard them as a symptom of infantilization, because our participation remains terminable the instant the experience ceases to gratify the user There is no genuine, robust community, if we indulge our desire to control, to dictate, to marginalise and to ostracise at will.Franzen can t even determine whether reading is the cure or the sickness It s hard to consider literature a medicinewhen reading it serves mainly to deepen your depressing estrangement from the mainstream Franzen then describes a character in Desperate Characters in language that could equally be applied to many readers and non readers alike No matter how gorgeous and comic their torments are, and no matter how profoundly human they appear in light of those torments, a reader who loves them can t help wondering whether perhaps treatment by a mental health care provider wouldn t be the best course all round Novelist and AudienceIronically, again, at this moment of suggestion that character, writer and reader might share an affliction, Franzen returns to the differential between novelist and audience He looks at the question of audience from the outside, not from within He doesn t stop to acknowledge that every time he reads something written by another writer whether an author, journalist or reader , he is a member of an audience.The Social Isolation of the Author and the Reader The analysis of audience throws up the term social isolate , the child who from an early age felt very different from everyone else Some even become authors who are perceived as antisocial and are prone to living in exile or seclusion, either way not playing the game of publicity that can link author and audience.His friend Shirley Brice Heath gets straight to the point You are a socially isolated individual who desperately wants to communicate with a substantive imaginary world Although he adds to this description the need to make money, or at least a subsistence living, it encapsulates some of the paradoxes of authorship.The writer is essentially isolated, but needs to communicate The anomaly is that the object of the desire to communicate is not the audience, but the author s own imaginary world It is a personal construct, a self contained product of the social isolate No matter how much writers might feel their characters come alive, they don t genuinely answer back, they don t say or do anything without the author s imprimatur.While authors might not know the outcome of their work until they have written the last word, ultimately it is determined, if not predetermined by the author.UnpredicabiltyIn contrast, Shirley Brice Heath defines substantive works of fiction in terms of unpredictability they help the reader come to see themselves as deeper and capable of handling their inability to have a totally predictable life .Readers find in these works of fiction the only places where there was some civic, public hope of coming to grips with the ethical, philosophical and sociopolitical dimensions of life that were elsewhere treated so simplistically Yet again, Franzen differentiates between writer and reader Each requires the other Together, they can form one community, but they are a community of differences They do not share a perspective, they have contrasting needs and opposite perspectives on the same need Readers and writers are united in their need for solitude, in their pursuit of substance in a time of ever increasing evanescence in their reach inward, via print, for a way out of loneliness The Role of IsolationAgain, there are paradoxes in this neat statement.It can be construed as asserting that solitude is a means to an end, the end being the pursuit of substance in life and society On the other hand, it might be suggesting that solitude is an end, that the solitude of the reader can escape loneliness and attain contentment by virtue of the illusion that the writing which we read and our response is internal We look inwards to escape loneliness, but not necessarily so that we can look outwards.It s almost as if Franzen would be content with a happy solipsist.The Identity of DeLilloAs Franzen s essay reaches its conclusion, he quotes a private correspondence with Don DeLillo, in which DeLillo wrote by way of encouragement of our depressed essayist Writing is a form of personal freedom It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture, but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals In a postscript, DeLillo adds If serious reading dwindles to near nothingness, it will probably mean that the thing we re talking about when we use the word identity has reached an end DeLillo s script and postscript need each other to form a complete picture The first passage is almost exclusively focused on the writer, while the second arguably focuses on the function of reading substantive fiction for the audience.Perhaps DeLillo and Franzen both have in mind a benevolent didacticism However, I think it s a mistake if Franzen sees himself as having joined a community of like minds All that he has managed to do is persuade himself that there is a legitimate reason for him to continue writing the type of novel he likes to write The community he envisages is still differentiated between writers and readers There is still a sense in which he believes that the reading of his fiction will give us, the audience, identity and character.The Politics of IdentityFranzen doesn t investigate the purposiveness of identity There is still a sense in which identity is trapped within a solipsistic inner world of culture whereby authors slide trays of tasty morsels under the locked door of our prison.I d argue that, with a better sense of identity, we can interact with others better and do the things that life requires of us effectively.While writing might occasionally constitute art for art s sake , it doesn t necessarily follow that reading does.A reader reads something different to what the writer wrote The reader s reaction is not just the reciprocal of what the writer experienced or intended It has the potential to launch a healthier, happier reader into the community of both family and society.In other words, reading has the potential to remedy the isolation of the social isolate.How to Be Social I suspect that Franzen s prognosis stops short of this remedy He seems to be content with a mutual dependency between two social isolates, the writer and the reader His conclusion might work for himself, the writer, but it stops short of what is required by the reader who wishes to play a full role in society Ultimately, Franzen instructs readers in how not be lonely, but is content to show us how to be alone He has simply moved the reader one step from lonely to alone .However, identity is of necessity social Perhaps, the isolation of the reader needs to be seen as a means, not an end Perhaps the role of writing and reading is not to sustain isolation, but to enhance the dynamic of society Perhaps readers need equal guidance in how to be social.Post Script My edition seems to be an early paperback edition that did not yet incorporate the 2002 essay, Mr Difficult William Gaddis and the Problem of Hard to Read Books I ll return to this essay later.

  9. says:

    to describe my objection to this book of essays i m going to use a word that i don t quite understand in this context but that feels correct to me somehow generous these essays aren t very generous i d imagine they were cathartic to write they certainly do a good job of demonstrating the author s intelligence but in essay after essay, i found myself waiting for the part where i d find out why i was supposed to give a fudge about what i was reading to choose one example that crops up over and over the author is obsessed with the disappearance of serious fiction from the cultural landscape through several essays, many words, and at least ten different trains of thought, he explores why he a successful author need not despair that his life s work is becoming beside the point to most people, even and this what i think really bugs him smart, cool people who he would like to be admired by ultimately he comes to the conclusion that being a blip on the cultural radar is a fine thing to be, and in no way diminishes the worth of his books as compared to flaubert, dickens and other authors who were writing in novel centric times anyway, if you re a big fan of jonathan franzen you may want to check out this book i liked the corrections alright, but these essays didn t do much for me.

  10. says:

    I am sorry to say that this particular collection of essays turned out to be utterly boring The only two of them, that are interesting are Why Bother a marvelous musings of Franzen over the importance of the novel and the reading as a whole as well as about the lesser interest towards literature in the modern world and Meet Me at Saint Louis you will learn the story of Franzen and Oprah s dispute, how he was invited to be part of her book club with The Corrections and then uninvited because he was not telling the appropriate things in public.You can just read these two essays and be done with the book.