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Thursday, July 29, 2004 :::

How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen

Why I read it: Because I absolutely loved The Corrections

What I think about it: Jonathan Franzen is a very clever and erudite writer. Just reading one of his novels or essays will increase your IQ by at least a fraction, if only by association. And usually, he accomplishes this amazing feat while being entertaining at the same time. Sadly, this collection of essays doesn't really represent his best work as a whole. Certain essays are brilliant and emotionally heartbreaking, like when he expounds on his father's Alzheimers disease or his highly publicized conflict with the Oprah Book of the Month Club. Others are downright boring, like his musings on the Chicago postal system or his tour of state of the art detention centers. Worse, some essays smack of self-importance and unabashed arrogance, and far too many of them focus on blaming the American public for either not reading enough or for reading the wrong books. He often comes off as a typical old curmudgeon, shunning popular technology, popular books, popular society, popular everything. And he even goes as far as to utter my least favorite and most snobberish of declarations: he doesn't even own a TV. Obnoxious people like to make that statement as if it somehow elevates them to a higher plain of human development. TV is like anything else, including Jonathan's essays: some of it's good, worthwhile, and substantial. Some of it's not. To discount all of it altogether would be foolish. But even at his most put-offish, he still writes with fascinating style and wit. But he's at his best when he acts human, and sometimes it's hard not to identify with his disillusionment or his occasionally feeling like a total phony. I guess my final recommendation would be to read his novels instead. Even though half of this book is amazing, the other half will leave a bad taste in your mouth, which may end up sullying your opinions of his superlative fiction.

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::: posted by dan at 1:04 PM :: #


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