How to be Alone
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How to be Alone

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  6,638 ratings  ·  592 reviews
Passionate, independent-minded nonfiction from the international bestselling author of 'The Corrections'. Jonathan Franzen's 'The Corrections' was the best-loved and most written-about novel of 2001. Nearly every in-depth review of it discussed what became known as 'The Harper's Essay,' Franzen's controversial 1996 look at the fate of the novel. This essay is reprinted for...more
Paperback, 306 pages
Published July 2nd 2007 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2002)
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Jan 08, 2014 sckenda rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lonely Readers
"How could I not feel estranged? I was a reader." (94)

"Picking up a novel after dinner represents a kind of cultural Je refuse!" (90)

How to Be Alone collects 14 essays that are centered around the theme of loneliness. I was intrigued with Franzen’s sense of how reading demands a life of solitude and how the act of deep reading makes us exiles.

In “Why Bother?,” Franzen declares that books are not good for your mental health because good books serve mainly to deepen a dedicated reader’s “depre...more
Sep 22, 2008 Carly rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: elderly techno-phobes
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 wit...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
This review has been revised and can now be found at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud! I wish the title was more prophetic.
Ian Paganus
Perchance to Bother

This 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.

MJ Nicholls
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 more 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 wr...more
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 a...more
I cannot think of a more perfect book for my 100th review.

Reading is a solitary activity, as anyone reading this is likely to understand. Never am I more aware of this than when I try to talk to friends and family about what I'm reading. I think that is why so many of us have joined this site- we're seeking some connection with others through our isolation. By knowing that we're not alone by ourselves offers some semblance of comfort.

I like Franzen very much in this collection. He comes across f...more
So Jonathan Franzen doesn't know I exist and couldn't possibly have written this just to show up as confirmation during a week when I needed exactly this sort of confirmation, right? So it just felt that way.

Also it could be the title attracted me because cultivating the sort of isolation required for reading and writing does mean being a little dangerously far from the herd and I am ambivalent about it, just as I have an odd little relationship with goodreads because it's a way of not being alo...more
Minha preguiça mortal do Franzen já virou lenda entre meus amigos, que me olham cheios de condescendência pensando - imagino - coisas como "ah, mas ela não sabe ler/não leu direito/não entendeu/é retardadinha".

Jonathan Franzen é bom um escritor? É.
Jonathan Franzen é um bom ensaísta/jornalista/whatever? Depois de ler esse livro, me sinto forçada a responder que sim.
Jonathan Franzen é o melhor escritor da nossa época e merece todo esse incenso em torno de sua preciosa bundinha letrada? Mas nem f...more
Come stare soli è una raccolta di 13 saggi, tra i quali io mi sento di salvarne solo due:

Il cervello di mio padre (intoccabile per il tema che tratta)
Perché scrivere romanzi?

Di Franzen non ho ancora letto niente perché, sia la mole di Libertà che quella di Le correzioni mi incutono un certo timore, che non è lo stesso timore che incute un Tolstoj o un Dostoevskij, cioè un timore rispettoso, ma piuttosto un timore da “mattone”.
Tutto il libro ruota attorno al problema della diminuzione dei lettor...more
Franzen is somewhat dark, but in a real world, plain in front of you real and dark. I like his explanations, his inclusion of family and his truthfulness. Perhaps his explanations are a mirror for me, but I had read a few of these essays before they appeared in this book. He is worth the poke of prod and read. He is infinitely human, and his work is readable, and ultimately, human in its dimension of honesty. I find it lovable and laudable, in that, he worries about readers understanding his wri...more
The thing that I like about this book is that it's written by a fellow curmudgeon who likes to complain about the current state the world. Hey! I like to do that too! For most of the book Mr. Franzen bemoans the decline of the literary novel, the wastefulness of modern society, the miserly plight of the working author, the degeneration of culture and the questionable morality of the criminal justice system. He complains a lot.

But Mr. Franzen's complaints are not like my complaints. That's to say...more
A lot of people bitch about Jonathan Franzen, and probably with good reason. Especially in a nation in which mainstream aesthetic values have become conflated with democracy (facepalm), he's viewed as an out-of-touch elitist, an academic leftist, who-- unlike other academic leftists-- actually winds up on bestseller lists, and thus forces his opinions into the national conversation. In fact, he's one of the few American writers today who actually seems willing to challenge the status quo, and fu...more
Update: 13 November 2008 Franzen surprised me by saving the best for last. His second from the last essay, "Meet Me in St. Louis" turned out to be the best by far. It's the most personal and also brings the book back to where it started, his childhood home and mine, St. Louis. The first essay, "My Father's Brain" is about his father's slow drift into Alzheimers and the author's own reluctance to accept where his father's going. It is poignant in its understatedness.

In "Meet Me in St. Louis" Fra...more
Aug 27, 2007 Nidhi rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with an hour to kill
He is a fairly pompous writer. I will start with that because it's important to know the tone from which you will be inflicted pages and pages of advice on how to be "proper" reader in today's society. This book is a series of essays written by Jonathan Franzen recently as well as revisited essays from his past. He laments the fall of the novelist, the over-importance put to privacy and the lack of care afforded to the the public, and deteriorating postal systems (this essay, I must be honest, I...more
Bastian Greshake
This was kind of a weird read for me. Franzen seems to be the kind of supporter of the form of cultural pessimism (highbrow literature is dying! TV and the internet are making us accept capitalism! only rotary phones are acceptable! [seriously, I only half-made up the last one, there is an essay on his rotary phone] etc) that in a way is still prevailing. Still I enjoyed reading even some of those essays, even if I strongly disagree with his conclusions.

To have a closer look into the different...more
Franzen, we know you've been busy writing the Great American Novel and all, but you are overdue for a new collection of essays that embraces (or at least nods towards) the 21st century. Several of these essays claim a date somewhere in the 90's, but I swear his ode to rotary phones could be decades older. Has he not been introduced to the cell phone? He speaks of Touch-Tones as cutting edge communication devices. In 1995 he gave away a television that appears to have doubled as side table; how l...more
Dec 19, 2007 Patrick rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: boring magazine enthusiasts
I should preface this by saying that I don't really like books that are just repackaged essays or features from magazines, and if I'd been aware that that's what this was, I might not have been so eager to read it. As it was, I'd just finished reading 'The Corrections' and wanted to get my hands on anything Franzen related as soon as possible. This book slowed that urge to a screeching halt.

It's not as if Franzen is a bad writer. Far from it. He's amazingly smart and talented, and surprisingly h...more
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.
There are thirteen essays making up this collection and though the theme is consistent - solitude, isolation, independence - the range is still broad and comprises topics as varied as writing, dementia, the prison system, city development etc. To me they all hold up very well with the exception of Lost in the Mail (about the postal system in Chicago; an excruciatingly dull subject and expose although I understand it's really about the breakdown of public society) and Erika Imports (too short to...more
Christina Marie Rau
The last time I was in the library, Jonathan Franzen written along a spine caught my eye. Why did I want to read this book? Where had I heard this name? The book looked brand new. However, most of its essays are from the late 90s and early 2000s. The political and social references are fascinating because they are now all in hindsight. Most (if not all) are pre-September 11th. They are all pre-current-economic-meltdown and new President Obama.

The essence of the essays are timeless. From learnin...more
This book of essays was quite entertaining. I found the essays about subjects other than the state of literature to be the most entertaining. Some of the essays are from the 90s and reflect the sensibilities and uncertainty of how technology and the internet will develop and affect our lives. I did get bored with the essays on the state of literature. The first one was decent but the other two felt sort of rehashed. Perhaps this is the case because of their age of the essays and the fact I have...more
Having read David Foster Wallace's essays recently, I picked this up on an impulse and must admit that the shine and effervescence of the former serve only to underline how lacklustre these attempts at reportage and literary deliberation really are.
Franzen's coy, standoffish discussion of the dichotomy between literature (or even just books) and television is indicative. He underlines his distaste for the Tube, describes the decrepit nature of the set that he has just got rid of, and then attem...more
I bought this used hardcover at the Williamsburg Flea Market. I wish I had read this collection of essays, reviews and whatnot a few years ago, when it came out, because about half of it seems pretty dated (railing against touchtone phones and CDs). But still worth reading. I've come to enjoy Franzen's vinegar drinking non-fiction voice, probably more than I would enjoy actually knowing the man. I guess I should bite the bullet and read The Corrections, like everyone else.

Despite the title, this is not a how-to book, nor is it really about being alone (maybe about being statistically alone in your opinions or values). It is a collection of essays by the author of one of my favorite novels 'The Corrections.' First off, I was surprised by the slightly pedantic, lecture-y tone of the writing. I guess I was expecting more humor. Franzen is very 'vocal' about preferring an impersonal, intellectual world over a personal, introspective one. That's okay...I enjoy reading...more
Jon Doyle
Franzen's essays probe into why we read and write, and through them he reminds us how special and valuable the written word is. For the flagging reader or failing writer, 'How to be Alone' provides a series of welcome updrafts, thermals which can elevate them to see the beautiful view a fresh perspective can bring.

Franzen quotes Flannery O'Connor, and it captures the essence of this collection rather well:

People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’...more
I know I’ve read some Franzen before, but can only seem to summon up a sense of profound ambiguity when thinking of his writing. After this essay collection, I think I understand why. Franzen has a deeply unappealing personality, Snob with a capital ess, supercilious, condescending, etc, etc. His saving grace seems to be that he is fully aware of this failing, which is somewhat appealing. So he is appealing in his unappealingness? And also he is a very good writer. Even when I think he is totall...more
So this was my first Franzen experience, and the only thought that really comes to mind is "what took me so long?!"

I've been a big David Foster Wallace fan for about a year and obviously know of their friendship, but it wasn't until I read D.T. Max's biography (which, as a whole, I really didn't enjoy) and saw the letters between Wallace and Franzen that I was really inspired to check out his stuff.

I figured it would be pretty decent, but I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. There were...more
After reading this, I think I have a better understanding of where Franzen's mind is in his novels (all of which I have now read), and I feel like I'm now in a better position to re-read them, if I so chose. Part of the reason why I grew supremely bored of his writing, particularly by the time I got to Strong Motion and Twenty-Seventh City, is because he has an incredibly particular style and unfortunate reliance on very similar tones and characters in most of his work. Having said that, his ess...more
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Jonathan Franzen is the author of The Corrections, winner of the 2001 National Book Award for fiction; the novels The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion; and two works of nonfiction, How to Be Alone and The Discomfort Zone, all published by FSG. His fourth novel, Freedom, was published in the fall of 2010.

Franzen's other honors include a 1988 Whiting Writers' Award, Granta's Best Of Young Ameri...more
More about Jonathan Franzen...
Freedom The Corrections The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History Strong Motion The Twenty-Seventh City

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“Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression's actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity. The more persuaded you are of your unique access to the rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world; and the less you engage with the world, the more perfidiously happy-faced the rest of humanity seems for continuing to engage with it.” 239 likes
“But the first lesson reading teaches is how to be alone.” 176 likes
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