I started reading Jonathan Franzen, it seemed, because I could no longer resist the world's infatuation with "The Corrections." I was a fruit-loop forI started reading Jonathan Franzen, it seemed, because I could no longer resist the world's infatuation with "The Corrections." I was a fruit-loop for Oprah's book club and had resisted the book for years merely because Franzen had resisted Oprah when she attempted to make it part of her Club.
"What an arrogant fool," I'm sure I defensively muttered. For though I never watch Oprah, her books are amazing. So I took up a pretentious opinion of all things Franzen-esque.
But I read "The Corrections" and it was superb. No. It was sensationally superb. So I discarded my ridiculous facade.
I listened to "How to Be Alone" on a roadtrip between Kansas and New York. Looking at the case's cover, I answered that question in my brain: "just drive through the Midwest, dummy." The backroads (even the tollroads) of the Midwest are the American epitome of emptiness.
That trip was phenomenal, though. I encountered some of the most beautiful terrain throughout the upper Midwest, lower Ontario and upstate New York. Hearing him speak "to me" about his family life made me feel like I had a wonderful friend along for the ride--despite the fact that I was taking complete pleasure in my own isolation.
* * *
Now when I read Franzen, I'm always shocked to remember that he's not in his late-20s, gay, a little OCD and...well...me. I get so caught up in how much I embody his stories: feel them as if they were my own. His writing captures the idiosyncratic (forgive me, I'm calling myself idiosyncratic), anxious, ranting, bookish life I simultaneously try to avoid and espouse. But of course he's different. He's experienced some serious ups and downs that I hope never to encounter. Yet, I can't always resist the self-involvement of reading some of his passages in my own voice.
Perhaps this passage from page 189--where he's speaking of birds--best summarizes my own embattled connection to Franzen: "I've been told that it was bad to anthropomorphize, but I could no longer remember why. It was, in any case, anthropomorphic only to see yourself in other species, not to see them in yourself."
How often do we see ourselves in songs about love, plays laced with tragedy, books examining neuroses? Everyday, surely. And how often do we allow ourselves to descend into those stories as if they were our own; as if entering a scene as a bystander, watching the drama unfold: mute friends witnessing the scene? We cry at movies though they're fictional and have little real consequence to our actual lives.
Self-awareness is crucial to Franzen's journey. And via his probes for understanding, I become aware of how much I'm clinging to other species (whether writers or penguins) for advice and equanimity. Though I can't help but wonder: maybe Franzen's crucial to my journey, too.
This book is about voices--that which you speak and those which you listen to. Sometimes you can hear everything that's being said in the Babel of conThis book is about voices--that which you speak and those which you listen to. Sometimes you can hear everything that's being said in the Babel of contemporary society. Sometimes you don't want to hear anything at all. This book smokes everything else in terms of descriptive force. You can feel the rhythm and beat of each voice...the ripples of articulation as you ponder Doctorow's counterbalancing philiophies of life. It's an absolute mess...And a symphony of words....more
Perhaps the funniest book I've ever read. This vignette-style memoir is wrapped up in a bow of feminist humor. It's like Mo and Kathy's skits with anPerhaps the funniest book I've ever read. This vignette-style memoir is wrapped up in a bow of feminist humor. It's like Mo and Kathy's skits with an air of "I'm a fuck-up." Brilliant--and I may have snorted one too many times on the subway while reading....more