how to be alone-jonathan franzen

freedom has been a huge success, recently. the corrections comes with rave reviews. but in choosing to read jonathan franzen-what does my commitment-phobic ass go with? this one. a collection of essays that would make the best self-help book ever. as a dood on the subway told me the other day, “you fail”. yup.

“One of the reasons I’m a writer is that I have uneasy relations with authority.” (261) Meet Me in St.Louis

“Naturally, the more TV I watched, the worse I felt. If you’re a novelist and even you don’t feel like reading, how can you expect anyone else to read your books? I believed I ought to be writing a third novel.” (64) Why Bother?

“I mourn the eclipse of the cultural authority that literature once possessed, and I rue the onset of an age so anxious that the pleasure of a text becomes difficult to sustain. I don’t suppose that many other people will give away their TVs. I’m not sure I’ll last long myself without buying a new one. But the first lesson reading teaches is how to be alone.” (178) The Reader in Exile



5 thoughts on “how to be alone-jonathan franzen

  1. the invisible gorilla:

    “But one of the basic features of the mind is its keenness to construct wholes out of fragmentary parts. We all have a literal blind spot in our vision where the optic nerve attaches to the retina, but our brain unfailingly registers a seamless world around us. We catch part of a word and hear the whole. We see expressive faces in floral-pattern upholstery; we constantly fill in the blanks. In a similar way, I think I was inclined to interpolate across my father’s silences and mental absences and to persist in seeing him as the same old wholly whole Earl Franzen. I still needed him to be an actor in my story of myself.” (15) My Father’s Brain

    “Reticence, meanwhile, has become an obsolete virtue. People now readily name their diseases, rents, antidepressants. Sexual histories get spilled on first dates, Birkenstocks and cutoffs infiltrate the office on casual Fridays, telecommuting puts the boardroom in the bedroom, ‘softer’ modern office design puts the bedroom in the boardroom, salespeople unilaterally address customers by their first name, waiters won’t bring me food until I’ve established a personal relationship with them, voice-mail machinery stresses the ‘I’ in ‘/I’m/ sorry, but /I/ don’t understand what you dialed,’ and cyberenthusiasts, in a particularly grotesque misnomer, designate as ‘public forums’ pieces of etched silicon with which a forum’s unshaved ‘participant’ may communicate while sitting crosslegged in tangled sheets. The networked world as a threat to privacy? It’s the ugly spectacle of a privacy triumphant.” (50) Imperial Bedroom

    “Simply having a parent who reads is not enough, however, to produce a lifelong dedicated reader. According to Heath, young readers also need to find a person with whom they can share their interest. ‘A child who’s got a habit will start reading under the covers with a flashlight,’ she said. ‘If the parents are smart, they’ll forbid the child to do this, and thereby encourage her. Otherwise, she’ll find a peer who also has the habit, and the two of them will keep it a secret between them. Finding a peer can take place as late as college. In high school, especially there’s a social penalty to be paid for being a reader. Lots of kids who have been lone readers get to college and suddenly discover, ‘Oh my God, there are other people here who read.’” (76) ibid.

    “New York is resented as an actual place-for its rudeness, its arrogance, its crowds and dirt, its moral turpitude, and so forth. Global resentment is the highest compliment a city can receive, and by nurturing the notion of the Apple as the national Forbidden Fruit such resentment guarantees not only that ambitious souls of the ‘If I can make it there, I’d make it anywhere’ variety will gravitate toward New York but that the heartland’s most culturally rebellious young people will follow. There’s no better way of rejecting where you came from, no plainer declaration of an intention to reinvent yourself, than moving to New York; I speak from personal experience.” (187) First City

    “One day the beauty of thrift and the ideal of simplicity end up petrified into barren, time-devouring obsessions. One day the victim of the market turns out to not be a trivial thing, like a rotary phone or a vinyl disc, but a thing of life-and-death importance to me, like the literary novel.” (200) Scavenging

    “Obsolescence is the leading product of our national infatuation with technology, and I now believe that obsolescence is not a darkness but a beauty: not perdition but salvation. The more headlong the progress of technological development, the greater the volume of obsolete detritus. And the detritus isn’t simply material. It’s angry religion, resurgent countercultural ideologies, the newly unemployed, the eternally unemployable. These are the fiction writers’ guarantee that they will never be alone. Ineluctable obsolescence is our legacy.” (209) ibid.

  2. love letter to the craft:

    “I’d intended to provoke; what I got instead was sixty reviews in a vacuum.
    My appearance on KMOX was indicative. The announcer was a journeyman with a whiskey sunburn and a heartrending comb-over who clearly hadn’t read past chapter two. Beneath his boom mike he brushed at the novel’s pages as though he hoped to absorb the plot transdermally.” (61) Why Bother?

    “Even now, even when I carefully locate my despair in the past tense, it’s difficult for me to confess to all these doubts. In publishing circles, confessions of doubts are widely referred to as ‘whining’-the idea being that cultural complaint is pathetic and self-serving in writers who don’t sell, ungracious as writers who do. For people as protective of their privacy and as fiercely competitive as writers are, mute suffering would seem to be the safest course. However sick with foreboding you feel inside, it’s best to radiate confidence and to hope that it’s infectious. When a writer says publicly that the novel is doomed, it’s a sure bet his new book isn’t going well; in terms of his reputation, it’s like bleeding in shark-infested waters.” (72) ibid.

    “Mail has offered to a lonely people a universal laying on of human hands. It’s as sacred as anything gets in this country. The burning of mail in a viaduct deals the same blow to our innocence as the pederasty of priests; and as soon a a sacrament is administered virtually, in the manner of televised evangelism, it reduces worshippers to consumers.” (137) Lost in the Mail

    “Each step of their downward progress was faithfully reported by my mother in her letters to me. Now everyone is dead, and I wonder: Is there no escaping the personal? In twenty-five years I have yet to find a work situation that isn’t somehow about family, or loyalty, or sex, or guilt, or all four. I’m beginning to think I never will.” (142) Erika Imports

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