How to Be Alone Quotes

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How to Be Alone How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen
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How to Be Alone Quotes (showing 1-30 of 32)
“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.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“But the first lesson reading teaches is how to be alone.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“Imagine that human existence is defined by an Ache: the Ache of our not being, each of us, the center of the universe; of our desires forever outnumbering our means of satisfying them.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“The world was ending then, it's ending still, and I'm happy to belong to it again.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“It's healthy to say uncle when your bone's about to break.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“Reading enables me to maintain a sense of something substantive– my ethical integrity, my intellectual integrity.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“For every reader who dies today, a viewer is born, and we seem to be witnessing . . . the final tipping balance.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“[T]hat I could find company and consolation and hope in an object pulled almost at random from a bookshelf--felt akin to an instance of religious grace.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“How could I have thought that I needed to cure myself in order to fit into the 'real' world? I didn't need curing, and the world didn't, either; the only thing that did need curing was my understanding of my place in it. Without that understanding - without a sense of belonging to the real world - it was impossible to thrive in an imagined one.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“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.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone: Essays
“Fiction, I believed, was the transmutation of experiential dross into linguistic gold. Fiction meant taking up whatever the world had abandoned by the road and making something beautiful out of it.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“Only in a crowded, diverse place like New York, surrounded by strangeness, do I come home to myself.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“Every writer is first a member of a community of readers, and the deepest purpose of reading and writing fiction is to sustain a sense of connectedness, to resist existential loneliness; and so a novel deserves a reader’s attention only as long as the author sustains the reader’s trust.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone: Essays
“If multiculturalism succeeds in making us a nation of independently empowered tribes, each tribe will be deprived of the comfort of victimhood and be forced to confront human limitation for what it is: a fixture of life.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“Plato laments the decline of the oral tradition and the atrophy of memory which writing induces, I at the other end of the Age of the Written Word am impressed by the sturdiness and reliability of words on paper... The will to record indelibly, to set down stories in permanent words, seems to me akin to the conviction that we are larger than our biologies.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“And did the distress I was feeling derive from some internal sickness of the soul, or was it imposed on me by the sickness of society? That someone besides me had suffered from these ambiguities and had seen light on their far side... that I could find company and consolation and hope in an object pulled almost at random from a bookshelf—felt akin to an instance of religious grace.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“The only mainstream American household I know well is the one I grew up in, and I can report that my father, who was not a reader, nevertheless had some acquaintance with James Baldwin and John Cheever, because Time magazine put them on its cover and Time, for my father, was the ultimate cultural authority. In the last decade, the magazine whose red border twice enclosed the face of James Joyce has devoted covers to Scott Turow and Stephen King. These are honorable writers; but no one doubts it was the size of their contracts that won them covers. The dollar is now the yardstick of cultural authority, and an organ like Time, which not long ago aspired to shape the national taste, now serves mainly to reflect it.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone: Essays
“Not just Negroponte, who doesn't like to read, but even Birkerts, who thinks that history is ending, underestimates the instability of society and the unruly diversity of its members. The electronic apotheosis of mass culture has merely reconfirmed the elitism of literary reading, which was briefly obscured in the novel's heyday. 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 one. But the first lesson reading teaches is how to be alone.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“Simply being a "social isolate" as a child does not, however, doom you to bad breath and poor party skills as an adult. In fact, it can make you hypersocial. It's just that at some point you'll begin to feel a gnawing, almost remorseful need to be alone and do some reading - to reconnect to that community.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“When a smoker says he wants to quit but can’t, what he’s really saying is, “I want to quit but I want even more not to suffer the agony of withdrawal.” To argue otherwise is to jettison any lingering notion of personal responsibility.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone: Essays
“Imagine that human existence is defined by an Ache: the Ache of our not being, each of us, the center of the universe; of our desires forever outnumbering our means of satisfying them. If we see religion and art as the historically preferred methods of coming to terms with this Ache, then what happens to art when our technological and economic systems and even our commercialized religions become sufficiently sophisticated to make each of us the center of our own universe of choices and gratifications?”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone: Essays
“When the sex is persuasively rendered, it tends to read autobiographically, and there are limits to my desire for immersion in a stranger's biochemistry.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“A candle is like a small sun, but the sun is like a large candle; examined closely, language turns out to operate through the lateral associations of metaphor, rather than through the vertical identifications of naming.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone: Essays
“When I see an actress or actor drag deeply in a movie, I imagine the pyrenes and phenols ravaging the tender epithelial cells and hardworking cilia of their bronchi, the monoxide and cyanide binding to their hemoglobin, the heaving and straining of their chemically panicked hearts.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone: Essays
“But in the world of consumer advertising and consumer purchasing, no evil is moral. The evils consist of high prices, inconvenience, lack of choice, lack of privacy, heartburn, hair loss, slippery roads. This is no surprise, since the only problems worth advertising solutions for are problems treatable through the spending of money. But money cannot solve the problem of bad manners—the chatterer in the darkened movie theater, the patronizing sister-in-law, the selfish sex partner—except by offering refuge in an atomized privacy. And such privacy is exactly what the American Century has tended toward.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone: Essays
“I suspect that art has always had a particularly tenuous purchase on the American imagination because ours is a country to which so few terrible things have ever happened.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone: Essays
“A child who's got the 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.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
“The horror of underage smoking veils a horror of teen and preteen sexuality, and one of the biggest pleasant empty dreams being pushed these days by Madison Avenue is that a child is innocent until his or her eighteenth birthday. The truth is that without firm parental guidance teenagers make all sorts of irrevocable decisions before they’re old enough to appreciate the consequences—they drop out of school, they get pregnant, they major in sociology. What they want most of all is to sample the pleasures of adulthood, like sex or booze or cigarettes.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone: Essays
“Kluger notes that these cases arguably amount to “personal injury claims in disguise,” and that the Supreme Court has ruled that federal cigarette-labeling laws are an effective shield against such claims. Logically, in other words, the states ought to be suing smokers, not cigarette makers. And perhaps smokers, in turn, ought to be suing Social Security and private pension funds for all the money they’ll save by dying early.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone: Essays
“I can't stomach any kind of notion that serious fiction is good for us, because I don't believe that everything that's wrong with the world has a cure, and even if I did, what business would I, who feel like the sick one, have in offering it? It's hard to consider literature a medicine; sooner or later the therapeutically minded reader will end up fingering reading itself as the sickness.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone

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