How to Be Alone Book Cover
From the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections, a collection of essays that reveal him to be one of our sharpest, toughest, and most entertaining social critics

While the essays in this collection range in subject matter from the sex-advice industry to the way a supermax prison works, each one wrestles with the essential themes of Franzen's writing: the erosion of civil life and private dignity; and the hidden persistence of loneliness in postmodern, imperial America. Reprinted here for the first time is Franzen's controversial l996 investigation of the fate of the American novel in what became known as "the Harper's essay," as well as his award-winning narrative of his father's struggle with Alzheimer's disease, and a rueful account of his brief tenure as an Oprah Winfrey author.
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How to Be Alone Reviews

Christina M 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 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 learning about how the brain functions because of his father's lost battle with Alzheimers to writing about writing, the themes are close to a writer's heart.

Franzen also discusses New York. That got me thinking that I want to date Franzen. Simply because he's a writer in New York. See? I don't ask for much.

The essay that most interested me was his experience during shooting footage for his upcoming appearance on Oprah since his last novel had been chosen for her book club. He recalls being at book signings and having people feel sorry for him because he made it on the list and then Oprah fans praising him for the same reason. Hil. Air. Eee. Us. I am not doing the essay justice here. You have to read it. You have to read all of them in How To Be Alone. Franzen is a writer's writer.

Oh, and I realized why I borrowed the book. A few years ago, I wrote a random note about writing in my poetry notebook. Along side the two words I'd jotted down was "Jonathan Franzen" followed by a question mark. I have no idea what it means.
Korri
I remember picking up The Corrections years ago and being unable to finish it. I can't recall why--maybe I had a busy schedule or the characters didn't grab me--but if this collection of essays is anything to go by, I can begin to imagine why I'd jettison his portentous work of staggering genius.

Franzen is good in his journalistic endeavors ('Lost in the Mail') and creative non-fiction ('My Father's Brain'). Although some of his cantankerous rants prefigure important issues of technology and cul I remember picking up The Corrections years ago and being unable to finish it. I can't recall why--maybe I had a busy schedule or the characters didn't grab me--but if this collection of essays is anything to go by, I can begin to imagine why I'd jettison his portentous work of staggering genius.

Franzen is good in his journalistic endeavors ('Lost in the Mail') and creative non-fiction ('My Father's Brain'). Although some of his cantankerous rants prefigure important issues of technology and cultural literacy (who wants their classic literature via text message?), the sullen superiority and luddite leanings in his other essays are hard to stomach. It is difficult to like a man who laments that their are no readers who appreciate his work because they have been too brainwashed by television and the cultural hegemony of touch tone phones to spend time thinking about how amazing he is.
Becca
I'm a big fan of Jonathan Franzen, but as with many books of essays, this was a bit of a mixed bag. Some pieces are still on my mind months later, while others I couldn't finish...
Epic: Stories of Survival from the World's Highest Peaks :: Sabbath's Theater :: Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran :: El ladrón de tumbas :: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments
Mel
Although the flowery, pretentious writing style of Franzen was a bit much at times, and the topics of a few of the essays seemed a bit strange (prisons in Colorado)- ultimately they all fit under the theme of being alone (new prison designs instilling 100% solitary) and proved to be, of course, well-researched and well-written. I do wish he'd pulled back in a few instances so the essays felt more human and less literary, and I absolutely detested that Harper's essay and his attitude towards the Although the flowery, pretentious writing style of Franzen was a bit much at times, and the topics of a few of the essays seemed a bit strange (prisons in Colorado)- ultimately they all fit under the theme of being alone (new prison designs instilling 100% solitary) and proved to be, of course, well-researched and well-written. I do wish he'd pulled back in a few instances so the essays felt more human and less literary, and I absolutely detested that Harper's essay and his attitude towards the "social novel" which seemed more like a pity fest than an intellectual stance on the country's reading habits or lack thereof.
Tuco
“Come stare soli” è una raccolta di saggi di Franzen scritti a tra gli anni 90 e inizio anni Duemila. Il tema centrale, come suggerisce il titolo, riguarda una riflessione sul tema della solitudine legata al mondo dei libri e il rapporto con la società; in realtà il libro è composto da saggi che trattano dello scrivere, di cosa si legge, del senso di alienazione che certi lettori possono provare quando si confrontano con la cultura di massa o anche solo quando si cerca di raccontare a qualcuno c “Come stare soli” è una raccolta di saggi di Franzen scritti a tra gli anni 90 e inizio anni Duemila. Il tema centrale, come suggerisce il titolo, riguarda una riflessione sul tema della solitudine legata al mondo dei libri e il rapporto con la società; in realtà il libro è composto da saggi che trattano dello scrivere, di cosa si legge, del senso di alienazione che certi lettori possono provare quando si confrontano con la cultura di massa o anche solo quando si cerca di raccontare a qualcuno che cosa si sta leggendo in quel periodo ecc. e anche da racconti che con questo tema hanno relativamente poco da spartire (o comunque sicuramente non in maniera diretta). Si passa così da un lungo resoconto sulle condizioni delle poste di Chicago (in cui ho percepito una certa nostalgia di Franzen per le care vecchie lettere cartacee soppiantate dalla email o fax), ad un più intimo racconto sul morbo di Alzheimer con cui combatté suo padre (non avrei scelto questo racconto, con una tematica così forte, per aprire il libro) fino ad una più interessante riflessione sulla lettura e la solitudine e su quale sia il ruolo dello scrittore oggi. In questi saggi Franzen, con un tono colloquiale e non altezzoso (anche se alle volte non gli riesce di trattenere il fastidio per talk show, best sellers e tecno-entusiasti in genere ma d’altronde come dargli torto) espone le sue idee sulla letteratura e non nasconde le sue emozioni così come il suo periodo di depressione durante la ricerca di quale fosse il ruolo moderno del romanzo sociale (sul ruolo dello scritto riporta una lettera stupenda speditagli da DeLillo). In questi saggi Franzen, da serio lettore solitario, parla ad altri suoi simili raccontando i suoi periodi difficili e il ruolo che la letteratura ha avuto nella sua vita (confrontandolo con i punti di vista di altri scrittori): il disagio che si prova a sapere quante poche persone leggono (e di queste quante leggono gli stessi autori letti da te) e quindi la difficoltà di condividere, così come lo svilimento della lingua a seguito del bombardamento continuo della televisione e internet. Tra le cose interessanti in questi saggi, oltre a farti sentire veramente meno solo parlandoti delle tue stesse sensazioni, c’è anche una panoramica sulla storia recente delle abitudini degli americani. Oltre ai saggi sullo scrivere/leggere ve n’è uno interessante riguardante la privacy; Franzen racconta cosa sia per lui la privacy e come sia cambiato il concetto che si ha di privacy con lo sviluppo urbano e il rapporto con le città (come, per esempio, la contraddizione del parlare al cellulare di fatti privati stando in un luogo pubblico come un autobus, oppure riflette su come ha vissuto il leggere sui giornali i fatti privati riguardanti il presidente Clinton ecc). Essendo l’argomento privacy venuto alla ribalta con Snowden, è interessante leggere un altro punto di vista anche se questo saggio è vittima del tempo in quanto, essendo stato scritto a inizio anni Novante (prima dell’ascesa di social network e smartphone), rilega in secondo piano l’aspetto legato alla tecnologia e privacy online.
In conclusione i saggi iniziali li ho trovati molto belli e interessanti; fanno apprezzare Franzen come Scrittore con la S maiuscola (nonostante a volte possa sembrare che si stia dando delle arie col suo rifiuto a televisioni e cose mainstream in genere) e vale la pena leggerli. I racconti, soprattutto quelli nella parte finale, sono scritti bene e tutto ma sembrano fuori posto buttati lì in mezzo alla rinfusa e a volte troppo brevi o autoreferenziali per essere interessanti (tipo quando racconta le riprese del tour promozionale a St. Louise per “Le Correzioni”).
Lee
The "Why Bother?" essay -- aka "The Harper's Essay" -- is really worth it.
Miriam Johnson
Beautiful reflections on the purpose of reading/writing:

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.

Looking me in the eye, Heath said: “You are a socially isolated individual who desperately wants to communicate with a substantive imaginary world.” I knew she was using the word “you” in its impersonal sense. Nevertheless, I felt as if she were looking strai Beautiful reflections on the purpose of reading/writing:

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.

Looking me in the eye, Heath said: “You are a socially isolated individual who desperately wants to communicate with a substantive imaginary world.” I knew she was using the word “you” in its impersonal sense. Nevertheless, I felt as if she were looking straight into my soul. And the exhilaration I felt at her accidental description of me, in unpoetic polysyllables, was my confirmation of that description’s truth. Simply to be recognized for what I was, simply not to be misunderstood: these had revealed themselves, suddenly, as reasons to write.

Jesse
This is a collection of essays by Franzen and it's an uneven read. Most pieces are from the mid 90s and a few from 2001-2002 timeframe. Topics covered range from what it means to be a reader in modern society to how cities have changed and what that means for privacy, to dealing with the death of his father, ultra max prisons, and how things went down when The Corrections was selected for Oprah's book club. If you're already a fan of franzen and looking to know more about how he thinks, I'd reco This is a collection of essays by Franzen and it's an uneven read. Most pieces are from the mid 90s and a few from 2001-2002 timeframe. Topics covered range from what it means to be a reader in modern society to how cities have changed and what that means for privacy, to dealing with the death of his father, ultra max prisons, and how things went down when The Corrections was selected for Oprah's book club. If you're already a fan of franzen and looking to know more about how he thinks, I'd recommend it. If not though, I don't think think it's going to appeal to most people. It can be a bit self involved in parts and certain aspects didn't age real well. The biggest exception to this is his essay on his father's struggle with dementia and his death, which is devastating, incredibly well written, and I'd give it 10 stars.
Rand Rhody
Really interesting and at his best when Franzen looks into power as it resides in America’s cities, corporations, public institutions and government. (See ‘Lost in the Mail,’ ‘First City,’ ‘Sifting the Ashes,’ and ‘Control Units.) Essays on reading and writing less so. Sound intelligent and insightful to begin with (‘Why Bother?’) but towards the end start to rehash the same amorphous argument: reading is hard, tv is easy, life is (mostly) unbearable. (See ‘The Reader in Exile,’ ‘Scavenging,’ or Really interesting and at his best when Franzen looks into power as it resides in America’s cities, corporations, public institutions and government. (See ‘Lost in the Mail,’ ‘First City,’ ‘Sifting the Ashes,’ and ‘Control Units.) Essays on reading and writing less so. Sound intelligent and insightful to begin with (‘Why Bother?’) but towards the end start to rehash the same amorphous argument: reading is hard, tv is easy, life is (mostly) unbearable. (See ‘The Reader in Exile,’ ‘Scavenging,’ or ‘Books in Bed.’)
John
I initially thought this would be a way to dip into the world of Franzen, without announcing I was reading any of his new books--especially since he's unpopular in the current zeitgeist.

I started out happy, I literally teared up reading his story about his father in Alzheimer's--here was a Franzen that was personable, relatable and down to earth. Then one or two essay later, that hope was dashed. I'm fairly curmudgeonly regarding my views of literature, but Franzen is downright mean. Especially I initially thought this would be a way to dip into the world of Franzen, without announcing I was reading any of his new books--especially since he's unpopular in the current zeitgeist.

I started out happy, I literally teared up reading his story about his father in Alzheimer's--here was a Franzen that was personable, relatable and down to earth. Then one or two essay later, that hope was dashed. I'm fairly curmudgeonly regarding my views of literature, but Franzen is downright mean. Especially regarding his views on the nature of literature, the reader being an outsider, etc.
Kasandra
Though 15 years old, I took a chance that these essays had aged well, and they had. My Father's Brain was powerful and had a number of startligly honest moments, even for a very self-conscious writer. Lost in the Mail blew my mind and made me angry. Sifting the Ashes was a favorite, hardly anyone writes about (admits to) smoking anymore. Control Units was necessary and very sad. A solid book, even if not all of it spoke to me. Recommended.
Rob
This collection of essays takes a little while to warm up to its premise, and some of the elitist tone is off-putting. As it goes along though, its strengths become apparent and as each essay starts hitting bullseyes, one senses a ripening of the central thesis and comes away with a slightly saddened yet anxious relief for our shared humanity with all its flaws and poignant interconnectedness.
Nicole Frangione
Franzen is accused of being cranky and elitist, but rumor reduces him. Some of these essays are deeply thought provoking and others seem like filler. The good greatly outweighs the bad in my opinion, and though there are a few eye roll moments, Franzen attempts to shake his reader from complacency and comfort the isolated bookworm.
Miriam Jacobs
These essays about reading, for the most part, are well-written and I enjoyed the opprotunity to know Franzen better as a writer. I am a little surprised how dated slmost half this work seems, though.
Fcbaby
Don't know what to say About this. Lot of Topics are dated (I'm reading in 2018). Lot of topics I could care a less about. Don't know if I like his style but at least he has one. This book did inspire me to read more. Love how he said he read one book 7 hours straight.
Rayho
Loved this collection. My favorite Franzen book, but I've only read this and the corrections so I'm pretty unqualified to judge. Personal favorite pieces were 1) the story about his fathers dementia and 2) the story about quitting smoking.
Rebecca Renner
I really enjoy Franzen's screeds against everything. I feel like I shouldn't, but I do. These are particularly humorous in hindsight. The early aughts were a simpler time.
Kasey Channita
Franzen applies his worldview, what I generalize as the hopeful cynic, to a number of essays spanning seemingly unconnected themes and topics to better understand and qualify the average American’s desire for/rejection of isolationism in the digital age. Contradictions abound in his essays, but are ultimately used as literary devices to mimic the tension we occupants of the 21st century feel in a culture and society where privacy seems to both increase and decrease with each new download or upda Franzen applies his worldview, what I generalize as the hopeful cynic, to a number of essays spanning seemingly unconnected themes and topics to better understand and qualify the average American’s desire for/rejection of isolationism in the digital age. Contradictions abound in his essays, but are ultimately used as literary devices to mimic the tension we occupants of the 21st century feel in a culture and society where privacy seems to both increase and decrease with each new download or update. May need a dictionary nearby to look up unfamiliar words (addressed in one essay in particular) but see it as a learning opportunity.
Anastasia
I really liked a couple of the essays, but couldn't get into most of them.
Nick Milinazzo
I don't typically do non-fiction, but I'll read anything Franzen does. Brilliant & poignant.
Lauren
This was a series of essays from Franzen dating back to the early 1990s. Great writing!
Mastropical
Great essay bundle to get under the hood on some of the themes Franzen later weaves into his wonderful books.
Lynda
Good writer. Thoughtful essays. Too much about urban humanity and not enough about nature for me.
Carielyn Mills
this is my first franzen. he came across as a snobby martyr. maybe it's because it's his essays from the 90's?
Ritinha
His wife. She must be a saint to put up with him...
Mark
My conclusions about this book are, well, inconclusive. Jonathan Franzen is one of America's most polarizing contemporary authors, primarily because of a perceived snobbishness in him (e.g., the notorious Harper's essay back in 1996, in which he gloomily announced the death of serious social fiction while at the same time crowning himself the heir apparent of the genre; later, his reported dislike of the Oprah Book Club sticker on his novel The Corrections --among other complaints--in 2001, and My conclusions about this book are, well, inconclusive. Jonathan Franzen is one of America's most polarizing contemporary authors, primarily because of a perceived snobbishness in him (e.g., the notorious Harper's essay back in 1996, in which he gloomily announced the death of serious social fiction while at the same time crowning himself the heir apparent of the genre; later, his reported dislike of the Oprah Book Club sticker on his novel The Corrections --among other complaints--in 2001, and his subsequent disinvitation from Oprah's TV show as a result, etc.). The essays and, in particular, the preface in How to Be Alone allow the author to set the record straight, to some degree (or at least provide Franzen's own take on these and other incidents in his professional life), but they also reinforce the author's belief that he's pretty awesome.

I don't mind an arrogant author. Isaac Asimov, ostensibly a mere sci-fi writer (though he wrote on numerous other subjects as well--and as interestingly), believed he was the absolute bee's knees and took every opportunity to state this belief in his nonfiction prose. But because his nonfiction prose was so well-written and funny, I ate it up with a spoon. So arrogance isn't a problem for me.

Writers morbidly preoccupied with creating "High Modern" and/or "Art Fiction" (or "high art" as Franzen once accidentally conflated the two terms, as he mentions in his Oprah-specific essay "Meet Me in St. Louis") don't bother me either. Though I've never finished reading Ulysses or Gravity's Rainbow I have finished plenty of other "difficult" books, and I've enjoyed more of them than I've hated. This is particularly the case with David Foster Wallace's work (with whom Franzen happened to be a close friend).

But here's what I do have a problem with: authors who have no sense of humor. I have not yet read The Corrections or any of Franzen's other novels (though The Corrections and The Twenty-seventh City sit on my shelves, waiting their turn), but based on the essays in How to Be Alone it seems to me that Franzen doesn't have one. A sense of humor, I mean.

In this book are essays on Franzen's father's battle with Alzheimer's disease; the increasing--or is it decreasing?--lack of privacy in modern American life; how screwed up the U.S. postal system is, particularly in large cities; Big Tobacco's stranglehold on smokers (the author included); the Internet as a big scary evil thing; on being a detractor of technological progress (or "progress"); America's prison system; the author's experience reading William Gaddis's novels; the absurdity of how-to sex books; Bush's 2001 inauguration; and the aforementioned Harper's essay.

Apart from "Mr. Difficult" (the essay on Gaddis, which I read originally in the New Yorker and which is what prompted me to read this book), none of the other essays had a shred of humor in them --or at least not that I could detect. Since I'm a fan of Wallace's work and Franzen's friendship with him was on my mind while reading this book, often I couldn't help but think, "I wish DFW had written this...." Because the topics were interesting, and Franzen's research--particularly in the case of the postal system, the tobacco, and the prison system essays--was solid, but his style of writing didn't make them particularly entertaining or compulsively readable. That, I suppose, makes me one of the reading types Franzen is railing against in his Harper's essay, but DFW's essays on similarly depressing topics were always suffused with, not an optimism, exactly, but a kind of "this is what it means to be human, and can't we all try to be a little better?" I don't know, it's hard to explain. But even DFW's saddest essays, be they about the hardcore porn industry or John McCain, uplift me--I guess through magic, since I can't seem to articulate it any better than that.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I do appreciate Franzen's skills as a writer, but considering how capital-g Great he clearly aims to be in his chosen profession, I wish he were better. I still look forward to reading The Corrections, but I won't be surprised if it doesn't match Infinite Jest in terms of making me want to hug it to death when I'm finished reading it. Based on what I've read in this book, Franzen just doesn't seem capable of writing that kind of prose.
Gabriela Art
me ha gustado, un libro con interesantes opiniones y observaciones de Jonathan Franzen acerca de por ejemplo: Alhzeimer, el funcionamiento del servicio postal, la cárcel, el sexo, recuerdos de su pueblo natal. :-)
Wendy Liu
My favorite essays were the ones about reading and writing fiction: Why Bother?, and to a lesser extent The Reader in Exile and Scavenging. The investigative journalism essays weren't _bad_, they just felt eminently skimmable. This is the only book I've read of Franzen's so far, but I already get the feeling that Franzen is at his best when he writes about himself, and his approach to reading or writing, rather than about the Chicago Post Office or tobacco or prison. Those pieces felt like they My favorite essays were the ones about reading and writing fiction: Why Bother?, and to a lesser extent The Reader in Exile and Scavenging. The investigative journalism essays weren't _bad_, they just felt eminently skimmable. This is the only book I've read of Franzen's so far, but I already get the feeling that Franzen is at his best when he writes about himself, and his approach to reading or writing, rather than about the Chicago Post Office or tobacco or prison. Those pieces felt like they could have significantly shortened or even left out entirely.

Still a worthwhile overall read.
Anni
The piece on his father's Alzheimer's disease is worth the four stars by itself.
Peter
Dieser Band versammelt 15 Essays welche bereits 2002 einmal veröffentlicht wurden. Besonders interessant finde ich die Essays, die sich mit Büchern, Autoren und Literatur beschäftigen (der bekannteste davon ist der Harper's Essay). Die Analyse der Fehlentwicklung in der amerikanischen Post oder die Reportage zu amerikanischen Gefängnissen sind sehr detailreich aber fesseln bei weitem nicht so wie die persönlich angestoßenen Berichte. Leider fehlen zu erwähnten Büchern Literaturangaben und Anmerk Dieser Band versammelt 15 Essays welche bereits 2002 einmal veröffentlicht wurden. Besonders interessant finde ich die Essays, die sich mit Büchern, Autoren und Literatur beschäftigen (der bekannteste davon ist der Harper's Essay). Die Analyse der Fehlentwicklung in der amerikanischen Post oder die Reportage zu amerikanischen Gefängnissen sind sehr detailreich aber fesseln bei weitem nicht so wie die persönlich angestoßenen Berichte. Leider fehlen zu erwähnten Büchern Literaturangaben und Anmerkungen zu dt. Übersetzungen auf die sich Franzen bezieht. Allerdings verstehe ich nach der Lektüre dieses Buches besser, warum für mich Lesen so lebensnotwendig ist.
Anmerkungen zu einzelnen Essays: "Aschelese"
Hier beschäftigt sich Franzen mit dem Rauchen, der Tabakindustrie in Amerika und der eigenen Sucht. So klug ausdifferenziert kann nur ein reflektierter Raucher über das leidige Thema berichten. Großartig.
- "Wozu der Aufwand (Harper's Essay)"
Hierin beschäftigt sich Franzen mit dem Niedergang des amerikanischen Gesellschaftsromans bzw. der Leskunst und Lesefreude an sich. Er zitiert mehrfach die Sozialwissenschaftlerin Shirley Brice Heath (eine elegante twiggyhafte, weißhaarige Dame ohne erkennbare Smalltalk-Toleranz!!!). Heath hat sich mit der Leserwerdung beschäftigt. Was bringt einen Menschen dazu Buchleser zu werden und was hindert Menschen daran. Diese Erkenntnisse sind sehr interessant aber leider kann ich diese Studie nicht ausfindig machen. Übersetzt ist sie jedenfalls nicht.
Franzen erklärt sich selbst warum Lesen von Büchern nicht durch Konsum von Radio, Fernsehen und Film (Internet) ersetzt werden kann. Was den Leser vom Konsumenten unterscheidet und welche Rolle Autoren innehaben. Sehr klug, sehr lesenswert. Allein schon dieser Essay "rechtfertigt" den Kauf des Buches.
- "Der Leser im Exil" Fast schon eine Lesedystopie - Hierin äußert er wieder seine Sorge über den schwindenden Leser. Sehr intensiv beschäftigt er sich mit den "Gutenberg Elegien" von Sven Birkerts. Obwohl der Essay bereits 1995 entstand sind seine Betrachtungen der digitalen Weltentwicklung sehr treffend. Es finden sich viele zitierenswerte Sätze in diesem Essay, wie zum Beispiel "Ich trauere um den Niedergang der kulturellen Autorität, die die Literatur einst hatte (...)." Der Begriff "Großleinwandroman" gefällt mir ebenso ausgesprochen gut wie vieles andere in diesem Text.
- "Verwertet" Ein sehr amüsanter kurzer Text über Wälscheibentelefone, Vinylschallplatten und weitere abgehängte, seelenlose Technik. Sparsamkeit und : "dass die Tonwahldinger mich abstoßen. Ich mag ihr steriles Klingeln nicht, ihre Überfülle an Nutzungsmöglichkeiten, ihr rückständiges Design, die ganze Selbstgefälligkeit ihrer Vorherrschaf." erklären Franzens Abneigung.
- "Mr. Schwierig" Sein ganzes Aufmerken und Zuhören gilt William Gaddis und hier vor allem den Roman Die Fälschung der Welt. Franzen erzählt von den Tücken der Lektüre von schwierigen Büchern und wie erfüllend der Leseaufwand sein kann. Ist der Schriftsteller verpflichtet Unterhaltsam und leicht Lesbares zu schreiben? Ist schwierige Literatur nur für gesellschaftlich privilegierte Leser und Schriftsteller "brauchbar"? Franzen arbeitet in diesem Essay zwei mögliche Beziehungsmodelle zwischen Autor und Leser aus. Einmal das Statusmodell und einmal das Kontraktmodell. Im Statusmodell besteht der Wert eines Romans unabhängig davon, ob die Leute etwas mit ihm anfangen können. Im Kontraktmodell liefert der Autor die Wörter, aus denen der Leser sich ein angenehmes Erlebnis schafft. Wie er diese Unterschiede ausarbeitet ist einfach großartig und klug. Franzen schildert, wie schwierig es sein kann sich einen schwierigen Roman lesend anzueigenen.
- "Im Bett mit Büchern" schildert auch wie schwierig es ist Sexszenen zu lesen. Sehr treffend und individuell behandelt.
Keith Michael
i'll halt before making a qualitative judgment, because i'm not sure how objectively "good" Franzen is, but i could relate fairly well to his complaints, his passions and his sadnesses. in some of the journalistic pieces, Franzen battles with our "technoconsumerist" society by critiquing the Chicago postal service, the American prison system, pop-sex books, and the historical development of major American cities and suburbs. it's really great stuff. what made the collection really personal for m i'll halt before making a qualitative judgment, because i'm not sure how objectively "good" Franzen is, but i could relate fairly well to his complaints, his passions and his sadnesses. in some of the journalistic pieces, Franzen battles with our "technoconsumerist" society by critiquing the Chicago postal service, the American prison system, pop-sex books, and the historical development of major American cities and suburbs. it's really great stuff. what made the collection really personal for me were the essays on his father's struggle with Alzheimer's, his own struggle with depression, his love of obsolescence and found furniture, and a really long critique of postmodernism that took some pretty big cajones to execute. he's an intelligent and earnest writer and i could find little in his writing to complain about besides him occasionally overplaying his Woody Allen alienation syndrome.

he has a great talent for making quick, precise metaphors that i was constantly impressed by, such as describing the twentieth century city design of "superskyscrapers surrounded by grass and superhighways" as a "Cartesian separation of work from play." it's only one word but it's so spatial and clear that it's difficult to imagine a better way to describe it.

he really won me over on a personal level by declaring allegiance to "the seventies clunkiness of my stereo components, for the insult it delivers to the regiments of tasteful black boxes billeted in every house across the land." i too am in love with my heavy old stereo receiver, although it's more for reasons of quality and aesthetics than a pressing need to be different.

finally, hats off to franzen for crucifying postmodernism, which has always been off-putting to me because it's so unassailable. to attack it is to open yourself up to those who would dismiss you as an irresolute or underqualified reader, and that's a really crummy type of elitism. franzen doesn't mince words:

"...the essence of postmodernism is an adolescent celebration of consciousness, an adolescent fear of getting taken in, an adolescent conviction that all systems are phony. the theory is compelling, but as a way of life it's a recipe for rage. the child grows enormous but never grows up."

exasperated with Gaddis, the particular author that he's flaying as a representative of the postmodern style, he claims that "to serve the reader a fruitcake that you wouldn't eat yourself, to build the reader an uncomfortable house you wouldn't want to live in: this violates what seems to me the categorical imperative of any fiction writer."

that needed to be said.
Derek
Oh, Jonathan Franzen---can he do no wrong? How to Be Alone: Essays, while perhaps not as essential as The Corrections in my estimation, is still full of insight and nuance and the customary Franzenian sentence-level fireworks; much of it is essential reading for those of us interested in literature's (arguably diminishing) place in society.

Of course, not all of this is going to be fascinating. I could give a hoot about the Chicago postal service circa nineteen-ninety-whatever, nor do I feel I ha Oh, Jonathan Franzen---can he do no wrong? How to Be Alone: Essays, while perhaps not as essential as The Corrections in my estimation, is still full of insight and nuance and the customary Franzenian sentence-level fireworks; much of it is essential reading for those of us interested in literature's (arguably diminishing) place in society.

Of course, not all of this is going to be fascinating. I could give a hoot about the Chicago postal service circa nineteen-ninety-whatever, nor do I feel I have much to gain from reading about the Colorado penitentiary system, even though I live an hour or so from the places described. But when he's writing on a subject I care deeply about (and many of these essays are about subjects I care deeply about), few authors can capture the exigence of his subject with the vigor that Franzen does. I read "My Father's Brain," his essay on his father's struggle with Alzheimer's, on the very day that my grandmother was buried after her own seven-year struggle with the disease. Though Franzen's insights are probably more useful to a son/daughter coming to terms with a parent's illness, it still proved enlightening for a grandson as well, and I was glad that he presented it as unflinchingly as he did.

But overly personal connections aside, so much of what Franzen outlines here are sentiments that I find myself agreeing with emphatically, either because I'm predisposed to or because he's a fine rhetorician. His trepidation in regards to technology (and the techno-consumerism that attends the apparent lack of trepidation from pretty much everyone else), his concern over privacy's weirdly simultaneous waxing and waning, even his discomfort with the "industry" of sexualization: more often than not, I find myself on Franzen's side of things. Perhaps the most urgent essay here, "Mr. Difficult," in which he outlines his perspective on challenging fiction (using William Gaddis as the focus for this discussion), works because he's unsparing in his criticism, especially when he has his guns turned 180 degrees; the work here towers over any Ben Marcus response you can throw at it.

Like so many collections, what appears here is a bit uneven, but sifting through clunky or uninteresting essays (and they are decidedly in the minority) is well worth the rewards of reading Franzen's essays that work particularly well.
James
This is my first audiobook review on Goodreads. I've probably listened to a dozen or so audiobooks over the years, but I'm not a fan because I don't really care for being read to. My attention wanders too much. I don't feel as if I've really 'read' the book in question. It has been my practice to listen to radio show podcasts on my Ipod when driving to North Carolina to visit my girlfriend, but with the Ipod and my CD player on the fritz, I've been forced lately to listen to books on tape.
I'm t This is my first audiobook review on Goodreads. I've probably listened to a dozen or so audiobooks over the years, but I'm not a fan because I don't really care for being read to. My attention wanders too much. I don't feel as if I've really 'read' the book in question. It has been my practice to listen to radio show podcasts on my Ipod when driving to North Carolina to visit my girlfriend, but with the Ipod and my CD player on the fritz, I've been forced lately to listen to books on tape.
I'm the only person I know, it seems, who hasn't read The Corrections. I had read a number of the pieces in this collection when they first appeared in Harper's, most notably the notorious lament for the American novel called "Perchance to Dream," which is revised and retitled here as "Why Bother?". Franzen is, without question, an accomplished stylist. His prose is snappy and there is great pleasure to be had, sentence by sentence, in its clarity and precision. His sensibility, however, couldn't be less congenial to me. He is a birder. He loves Henry James and he believes, with an off-putting moral fervor, that you should, too. Unlike, he smugly asserts, seemingly every other American man, he finds lingerie "scarcely less hokey than a Superbowl half-time show." In fact, he goes on, "What I feel when I hear that the mainstream actually buys this stuff is the same garden-variety alienation I feel on learning that Hootie and the Blowfish* sold thirteen million copies of their first record, or that the American male's dream date is Cindy Crawford. In a sense, I'm proud of not being like everyone else." Gee, you don't say. I, on the other hand, am the kind of fellow who prefers a garter belt to Wings of the Dove every single time.
I don't have to agree with or like the writers I admire. I love Celine and Flannery O'Connor, and I am neither an anti-Semite nor a Catholic. I guess I feel about Franzen about the way I feel about Spike Lee. I enjoy the work (although Franzen needs to eschew the subject of the literary novel's shrinking readership for a while), but find the public personality tiresome.
*Cheap shot. Even the writers on the tv show Friends felt hip enough to hate on Hootie.
Jacob
There are a number of reviews complaining about the prose and the pretense of Franzen's collection of essays. They are taking them to be in the same space as it was published, between The Corrections and Freedom, when the collection is from a much younger, and indeed crotchety version of himself from the nineties. He in fact touches on it in the introduction, which makes the complaints seem rather strange and suggests they may be coming at the collection and indeed Franzen as an essayist from th There are a number of reviews complaining about the prose and the pretense of Franzen's collection of essays. They are taking them to be in the same space as it was published, between The Corrections and Freedom, when the collection is from a much younger, and indeed crotchety version of himself from the nineties. He in fact touches on it in the introduction, which makes the complaints seem rather strange and suggests they may be coming at the collection and indeed Franzen as an essayist from the wrong angle.

Essays must be taken in their own historical context. The Franzen writing here is a reactionary, he is bitter, as he obliquely acknowledges as a coping mechanism of his halted success and stifled creative output. This is grating to some, me included, as there is this putrid hatred and distrust of technology in a way that is only possible when one hates from the old ideological mythos intensity Tolstoy and Dostoevsky hated trains.

It is new, it is confusing, and it will not have me, to hell with it all.

He does manage to make a few salient points about every subject he tackles, even if all of the non-personal ones later came to be outed as not only wrong but heinously understated (his view of privacy being key among them). However, that is written with an eye looking back two decades after he was writing, which is a bit like shooting a deer with a laser shotgun (pointless, however smugly satisfying).

I think this collection of essays works best as a time capsule, a collection ordered in the space between his second book and the one that would elevate him to top of modern literary writers. As such it is fascinating to see him digging in the dirt of his past and in doing so allowing us to realize that The Corrections is as close to an autobiographical work we are likely ever to get from him.

Franzen is a complicated and, yes, occasionally crotchety man that gives us pieces of himself in guarded packages, each wrapped in fits of youthful arrogance, midlife disillusionment, and creative détente. I couldn’t be happier to have him.
Emily
not all the essays were great. some of the points were repetitive (including oddly sweeping comments about both environmental and cultural degredation).

and yet there was something really beguilling about this book. i loved 'the corrections' but couldn't explain why, aside from isolated moments of heartbreak to do with his father's alzheimer's, a general texture to the thing that felt good, consistent, all the way through. it was definitely one of those books i liked fine, but whose author i imm not all the essays were great. some of the points were repetitive (including oddly sweeping comments about both environmental and cultural degredation).

and yet there was something really beguilling about this book. i loved 'the corrections' but couldn't explain why, aside from isolated moments of heartbreak to do with his father's alzheimer's, a general texture to the thing that felt good, consistent, all the way through. it was definitely one of those books i liked fine, but whose author i immediately thought 'wow. SO don't wanna ever meet that guy.' (see also: 'a heartbreaking work of staggering genius')

then there was the whole oprah thing. my impression was that the uber-chic franzen had turned his nose up at the invitation to be in her book club. as he tells it here, it was more a case of him being disinvited because he seemed ambivalent about the whole book-club thing. i liked that he wasn't saying 'screw you and your consumerist, low-culture crap' but also wasn't quite sure how brilliant he felt about 'the corrections' on that particular media platform. strong as my opinions are, i often marvel at how gung-ho the world expects us to be about everything. and damn it, but this world is a big stew of shades of grey.

the book's about grey. full of mail carriers who stockpile tonnes of mail rather than deliver them, people who love the idea of difficult books but don't usually bother sitting down to read them (franzen himself, he admits), and dumpsters full of useful garbage. (i loved 'scavenging'. by far my favourite essay. not preachy, saying everyone should choose to doggedly use their old rotary phone or furnish their apartments with cast-offs like he does. just saying 'this is the weird kind of stuff i do, and i wonder if it has anything to do with writing novels.')

i fully expected all the pretention and self-righteousness i found in the book, but was nicely surprised by the self-awareness and ambivalence i found there too. grey's a good colour.
Rowena
this is the first work i've read by jonathan franzen, and quite possibly the first work of nonfiction i've voluntarily read.

he started off well with the essay about his father, which was sad and for me, relatable to a degree. so i liked him.

then i got to "why bother?"/the harper's essay, and his lament of technology's growth didn't sit well with me. after all, without the internet, i wouldn't have known about him or found many of the authors/musicians i currently enjoy. and of course his anti-te this is the first work i've read by jonathan franzen, and quite possibly the first work of nonfiction i've voluntarily read.

he started off well with the essay about his father, which was sad and for me, relatable to a degree. so i liked him.

then i got to "why bother?"/the harper's essay, and his lament of technology's growth didn't sit well with me. after all, without the internet, i wouldn't have known about him or found many of the authors/musicians i currently enjoy. and of course his anti-technology sentiments then permeated almost all of his essays. so i read them and was alternately like 'ok this is a pretty good read' or like 'what' at some of the more ridiculous sentences which i can't recall atm. sometimes he seemed to forget that machines are manmade. and intended to enhance life.

and it's not like i am huge on technology either. i have a shitty ass phone and i don't even have texting which is unfortunate because apparently this leads to having no friends unless you want to call people all the time which is not always appropriate. BUT I DIGRESS. even if technology sort of stunts social situations, it's not like it's terrible and we should just do everything on typewriters and crappy old machines. it's certainly not destroying the future of the novel. come on, he really thinks someone who reads 'social novels'/'literature' would abandon reading just because he now has a tv?? give people some credit, jeez. he even mentioned that people in the less technologically advanced past preferred shitty books over 'literature'. it's always been this way!

despite this, though, there were enjoyable parts. my favorite essay was "meet me in st louis". i do like his writing, just not all his points. the book has an appealing concept, though sometimes i found myself wondering why i was reading about the post office or cigarettes (yes, he explained how they related to being alone, but the connections seemed kind of tenuous i guess).

not sure if i would recommend this collection, but i'm probably still going to read his fiction.
Zach
Physically lost the book about half way thru so I couldn't finish.
Alex Lee
Looking at the other views on here, I'm not quite alone in my feelings about Mr Franzen.

He's obvious an intelligent author. I enjoyed much of his structure, as he starts with a conceit, an image, a displacement, an opening -- wraps around it through history, thoughts, observations that twist back on themselves and then returns to that conceit with a gusto that shakes the room... armed with the negation of the displacement he starts with, he ends up closing that displacement with itself, completi Looking at the other views on here, I'm not quite alone in my feelings about Mr Franzen.

He's obvious an intelligent author. I enjoyed much of his structure, as he starts with a conceit, an image, a displacement, an opening -- wraps around it through history, thoughts, observations that twist back on themselves and then returns to that conceit with a gusto that shakes the room... armed with the negation of the displacement he starts with, he ends up closing that displacement with itself, completing essay.

THAT much, this structure, is good.

Good writing. But some of his values, some of his unwillingness to change... his young-old fashionedness... all of this bespeaks of alienation. The writer who wants to be alone. The literary minded intellectual who can't fathom what people are doing these days. That much, is a bit off putting. For someone who thinks original thoughts, how can he also live so unoriginally?

The only thought I could come up with is that he simply lives his life out of habit. All of his ingenuity, creativity... it's reserved for the page. It's reserved for his writing.

I honestly have not read any of his stories. This is my introduction to him. While his research and internal thoughts are interesting, thoughts internal to the essays -- and well worth considering -- his final closing and opening thoughts aren't interesting. The puzzles he poses are of interest, because we share a common world, but that's all. His alienation matches my alienation.

To put it another way, I'd have a beer with him, drink a few drinks and share a chuckle. But that's all. He'd get invited to the big party where I invite everyone. But I wouldn't have him over for an intimate dinner party... except as a foil.
~
Though not the guidebook on solitary living that the title promises (and that I could have used) this loose collection of what can only loosely be called essays by the fantastic Mr.Franzen slowly reveals itself to have some hidden cohesion, or rather it becomes cohesive once you start to see the ways in which Franzen slowly reveals himself through the essays.

Though the topics he has chosen to talk about are disparate - Alzheimer's, Reading sex scenes, Super-Max prison's, Oprah's Book Club, etc. Though not the guidebook on solitary living that the title promises (and that I could have used) this loose collection of what can only loosely be called essays by the fantastic Mr.Franzen slowly reveals itself to have some hidden cohesion, or rather it becomes cohesive once you start to see the ways in which Franzen slowly reveals himself through the essays.

Though the topics he has chosen to talk about are disparate - Alzheimer's, Reading sex scenes, Super-Max prison's, Oprah's Book Club, etc. - his lackadaisical and diary like approach to tackling them leads to a string of recurring tangents: again and again he almost unawarely brings up Melville, his mother, the treatment of American minorities, the slow murdering of American literature and other such subconscious obsessions and it is these sightings that make the book as fascinating as it is.

Franzen is known for opting-out of the post-modernist movement with his fiction and attempting instead to revitalize the realist movement with a modern touch; his non-fiction though is entirely post-modern in its approach. These are opinion pieces that lack entirely a clear point of view, Franzen is almost-frustratingly uncertain about where he stands on all of the issues he talks about, drawing no strong conclusions and allowing no sides to be shored up. The topics are just there as an excuse for the tangents, as a core around which he can mention writers he currently likes or cute facts he has recently heard.

Were he a less talented writer or his a less interesting mind then this book would have been a mess, something better suited for a blog, but because he is able to so cleverly construct the ideas that his rather brilliant brain creates it does work and is occasionally compelling for it.
Nick DiUlio
The craft (art?) of the well-written essay is something I respect a great deal, and Franzen (whose novels I've enjoyed immensely, of course) does a fairly solid job of composing missives both intellectually and emotionally stimulating (I was quite literally brought to tears by the book's opening essay about his father's decent into Alzheimers and by the second-to-last essay's reflection on not looking back at home). What's more, I was frequently rendered giddy by his abounding love of reading an The craft (art?) of the well-written essay is something I respect a great deal, and Franzen (whose novels I've enjoyed immensely, of course) does a fairly solid job of composing missives both intellectually and emotionally stimulating (I was quite literally brought to tears by the book's opening essay about his father's decent into Alzheimers and by the second-to-last essay's reflection on not looking back at home). What's more, I was frequently rendered giddy by his abounding love of reading and the ways in which so many of these essays reaffirmed my faith in the necessity of fiction and, yes, the virtues of being "alone." Solid, provoking work. That being said, Franzen is at his best when he's making direct links between personal anecdotes and the larger intellectual matters he's attempting to illuminate in his essays (yes, Jonathan Franzen can be quite—GASP!—funny, while also making a point). When he ventures into reportage (like his essay on the Chicago post office circa 1994) or into intellectual territory unmoored from first-hand experience (like "First City," wherein he ponders "why American cities in general and New York City in particular still bother to exist.."), Franzen's essays tend to lose a little focus, and, for this reader anyhow, become a bit tedious. What's more, many of these essays were written in the mid-90s (none of them are more recent than 2001), which lends a slightly dated (and sometimes, EEK, Luddite) ethos to many of his curiosities (What's this Internet thing all about? Who needs a CD player! Long live the rotary phone!). On the whole, if you enjoy Franzen's fiction, the act of reading, or some measure of both, you'll enjoy this collection.
KarmA1966
"How to Be Alone" is a treasure trove for introverts and booklovers alike. As Franzen writes, "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.”

These essays by Franzen were written almost 20 years ago and they hold up because his passion for reading and writing is timeless. But his most popular essay deals with the death of the novel.

“The only mainstre "How to Be Alone" is a treasure trove for introverts and booklovers alike. As Franzen writes, "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.”

These essays by Franzen were written almost 20 years ago and they hold up because his passion for reading and writing is timeless. But his most popular essay deals with the death of the novel.

“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.”

However, his arguments about the death of books were written before the digital age really took off. E-books, if they were around, were surely in their infancy. There were no smartphones or tablets when he wrote the piece. I'd love to see him revisit the topic in light of the swarm of Kindles and iPads. Would he have a different take on reading habits today, considering the ways in which we now consume content?
Sooz
I had pretty high expectations starting this book. first of all I love The Corrections. secondly the title, How to be Alone, really appealed to me and I don't know if there is anything more personal -more intimate- than our individual concept of alone. yup, I was expecting a lot.

the essays are opinion pieces for the most part ... but way too personal even for opinion pieces. only a couple cite information or facts that might sway what I think or feel on the subject matter. so there's times when I had pretty high expectations starting this book. first of all I love The Corrections. secondly the title, How to be Alone, really appealed to me and I don't know if there is anything more personal -more intimate- than our individual concept of alone. yup, I was expecting a lot.

the essays are opinion pieces for the most part ... but way too personal even for opinion pieces. only a couple cite information or facts that might sway what I think or feel on the subject matter. so there's times when I feel aligned with his writing, times when I feel at odds with it, times when I feel he is whining. and there are times I feel he is being very real and very vulnerable .... the essay on visiting his childhood neighbourhood was beautiful and particularly touching. it's probably my favourite piece in the collection.

overall it feels really patchy to me. it's lovely when i FEEL something like i did reading the above-mentioned return to St. Louis where he grew up. it is also lovely when he is expressing sentiments i agree with. (how can my heart not do a little flutter of approval when he mentions the Russian practice of self publishing (samizdat) and the banned poets of the Stalin era??) but i didn't feel challenged to change my thinking when i was at odds with him and so his writing lacked a stimulus i was expecting from a collection of essays. and way to often it felt like he was just talking to hear himself talk. talking to yourself? navel-gazing? ultimately i learned nothing productive on how to be alone.
Emily
After reading this collection of Franzen's essays, I'm left with the overwhelming sense that I far prefer his fiction to his nonfiction. While this collection certainly made me think and reflect, it made me want to engage with Franzen in a way that this text does not allow. I want to write him a letter and ask, what did the world ever do to you? I'm sorry the world makes you feel so isolated, Jonny boy. Someone needs to tell this guy to swallow his pride and pretentiousness and rejoin the real w After reading this collection of Franzen's essays, I'm left with the overwhelming sense that I far prefer his fiction to his nonfiction. While this collection certainly made me think and reflect, it made me want to engage with Franzen in a way that this text does not allow. I want to write him a letter and ask, what did the world ever do to you? I'm sorry the world makes you feel so isolated, Jonny boy. Someone needs to tell this guy to swallow his pride and pretentiousness and rejoin the real world (which he is purportedly trying to do).

I did love the first essay, "My Father's Brain," and its numerous connections to The Corrections. It gave me high hopes for the rest of the collection. Unfortunately, I found myself growing increasingly outraged with each page. Franzen, you have to know that if you don't keep up with today's technology, you will be left behind. You will feel more isolated than ever. Technology isn't evil. Embracing its potential will only move us forward with innovation, with connections, communication, and even art and literature. The world is changing, and we have to respond to it, not reject it outright.

I believe that, and someone needs to slap Franzen in the face and drag him away from his sadly, self-proclaimedly obsolete typewriter. I lost some respect for the guy just by hearing his own deep, neurotic concerns about society and the future.

I'll stick to his fiction from here on out.
Ron

Franzen's essays are fairly wide ranging and somewhat mixed in quality, yet somehow manage all to be a little bit autobiographical in their expression of his alienation from the world.

The famous Harper's essay is as good as advertised, and Mr. Difficult is a wonderful mini-biography of Gaddis couched as a defense of difficult literature, but The Reader in Exile is insipid and Books in Bed does little more than illustrate Franzen's own sexual repression. The First City and Lost in the Mail (reall
Franzen's essays are fairly wide ranging and somewhat mixed in quality, yet somehow manage all to be a little bit autobiographical in their expression of his alienation from the world.

The famous Harper's essay is as good as advertised, and Mr. Difficult is a wonderful mini-biography of Gaddis couched as a defense of difficult literature, but The Reader in Exile is insipid and Books in Bed does little more than illustrate Franzen's own sexual repression. The First City and Lost in the Mail (really? the mail has meant that much to you, Jon?) are complete bores, and Franzen reaches some ludicrous conclusions in his piece on tobacco. The essay on the prison state, however, is a fine, if outdated piece of reportage.

Scavenging and Erika Imports are delightful looks at his neurotic nature, the tale of his father's brain is touching, and the story of his return to St. Louis is gut wrenching. Imperial Bedroom, however, is a mixed bag that reveals the lonely, isolated child within who has never flown. It is curious that he speaks of his home as having no meaning upon his return to St. Louis while he never expresses much in the way of real feelings (illustrating only a single histrionic moment), and the sense of nostalgia for something he never really had (a warm, loving family) might have been a sympathetic grace note for the collection. Franzen, however, tacks on an utterly discursive few pages about the 2001 Inauguration protest that serves only to flatten his character and pay homage to the faulty hero (and mode) he has in Gaddis.
Bridgette Davis
Love the essay on the Chicago postal service ... also the essay on smoking is about as hilarious as David Sedaris' "When you are engulfed in flames".

I was also completely smitten with Franzen's ability to describe the tangibly horrifying problems in our "correctional" system of jails and prisons. His self-reflection on his whiteness and implication in our current system makes me believe in people more.

Franzen's essay about the merits of reading difficult fiction is complex, but fascinating. I w Love the essay on the Chicago postal service ... also the essay on smoking is about as hilarious as David Sedaris' "When you are engulfed in flames".

I was also completely smitten with Franzen's ability to describe the tangibly horrifying problems in our "correctional" system of jails and prisons. His self-reflection on his whiteness and implication in our current system makes me believe in people more.

Franzen's essay about the merits of reading difficult fiction is complex, but fascinating. I want to now read Gaddis' The Recognitions. My favorite parts of Franzen's writing are his amazing vocabulary that constantly challenges, while he simultaneously sums up his descriptions with quips like "I'm a total asshole."

This collection of essays is thematically centered on being alone... not lonely, not isolated, but alone. And interestingly enough, I think I deeply understand and identify with Franzen's recurring thesis that the lack of true public/civic space in contemporary life that coincides with the intrusion of commercialism and technology into our homes, thoughts, and dreams has created a generation that does not know how to be alone. Novels, it seems, are our only hope. For reading is at its center an act of actively being alone.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loved The Corrections, considers themselves to be a bit of a luddite, and/or who is interested in reading/language theory.
Mike
I am not a patient reader anymore, so I was apprehensive when a friend passed along this book of fourteen hyper-literate essays on topics as varied as the demise of the American novel, the sacks-of-mail-burning ineptitude of the Chicago post office in the '90s, the ironic history of tobacco regulation, and the author's experience caring for a parent with Alzheimer's. If any of those subjects sound interesting -- read this! Franzen does his research, thinks hard, and writes very, very well; my ho I am not a patient reader anymore, so I was apprehensive when a friend passed along this book of fourteen hyper-literate essays on topics as varied as the demise of the American novel, the sacks-of-mail-burning ineptitude of the Chicago post office in the '90s, the ironic history of tobacco regulation, and the author's experience caring for a parent with Alzheimer's. If any of those subjects sound interesting -- read this! Franzen does his research, thinks hard, and writes very, very well; my hours spent in his head were a pleasant reminder of the hard-earned joy of reading complex thoughts communicated in an artful way.

Some of the essays were a bit of work, though, and I'll admit my poor modern brain -- trained to multitask and extract the meaning of a thing as efficiently as possible -- struggled to find the reward in the longer essays on privacy and the novel-as-art. I'm happy I soldiered on. After a while I relished my frequent trips to the dictionary and found the bubble of my impatience pricked by an admiration for the elegant way Franzen puts words together. That said the more journalistic essays were my favorites, and if you're thinking of giving this a shot they're where I suggest you start:

Lost in the Mail (about the Chicago post office);
Control Units (the rise of supermax prisons, and their impact on the towns in which they're located);
Sifting the Ashes (the tobacco industry).
Leopoldo
La estrella que le falta es por algunos ensayos que, aunque están indudablemente bien escritos, no lograron el impacto fulminante de los demás.

Este es el primer libro que leo de Franzen, en preparación a su obra más celebrada, Las correcciones. En este libro, Franzen logra un acercamiento personalísimo a la forma del ensayo literario. Sus temas, muy variados: desde el sistema penitenciario estadounidense hasta el servicio de correo postal, desde la enfermedad de su padre moribundo hasta los libr La estrella que le falta es por algunos ensayos que, aunque están indudablemente bien escritos, no lograron el impacto fulminante de los demás.

Este es el primer libro que leo de Franzen, en preparación a su obra más celebrada, Las correcciones. En este libro, Franzen logra un acercamiento personalísimo a la forma del ensayo literario. Sus temas, muy variados: desde el sistema penitenciario estadounidense hasta el servicio de correo postal, desde la enfermedad de su padre moribundo hasta los libros de auto-ayuda sexual y las novelas de William Gaddis. Todos, con un sutil tema en común: la tremenda soledad que subyace en toda vida humana. La soledad del lector, del escritor, del reo y de sus guardias, del que espera una carta, del que regresa a casa para encontrarla vacía, del que agoniza, del que ve sus ilusiones irse con el agua de la regadera. Este es un libro excepcional, y estoy emocionado de leer más de Franzen.

Por si tienen la oportunidad de leer alguno de estos ensayos sueltos, les recomiendo unos cuantos, que fueron mis favoritos: "My father's brain", sobre la enfermedad y muerte de su padre, "Mr. Difficult", sobre William Gaddis y las novelas difíciles, y "Meet me in St. Louis", sobre el siempre difícil regreso a la casa donde se crece, después de muchos años.
N
As an essayist in search of how to assemble shorter pieces into a coherent collection, I found _How to Be Alone_ informative and smartly imagined. While staying true to the collection's theme--aloneness--Franzen investigates topics from the deeply personal ("My Father's Brain") to the universal ("Imperial Bedroom") in what brings to the book a satisfyingly heterogeneous flavor. While some readers may balk at the lofty literary references and unapologetic criticisms of our hyper-connected, commod As an essayist in search of how to assemble shorter pieces into a coherent collection, I found _How to Be Alone_ informative and smartly imagined. While staying true to the collection's theme--aloneness--Franzen investigates topics from the deeply personal ("My Father's Brain") to the universal ("Imperial Bedroom") in what brings to the book a satisfyingly heterogeneous flavor. While some readers may balk at the lofty literary references and unapologetic criticisms of our hyper-connected, commodity-based culture, what I appreciated most was the collection's active thinking. Franzen is disillusioned, yes, but not to the point of despair, at which there's no productivity in art; he writes with the energy of one who believes in the conflicted state of things, the continuing, binary presence of destruction and possibility. The very tussling present in every essay is what infuses the collection with forward movement. Amidst this static, frenetic, lonely existence, he seems to be saying, there are ways for people to rediscover real connection with themselves and each other. But no imperatives reverberate from a cloud: He doesn't clamber atop a pulpit to tell readers how to live. He doesn't suppose anything of his audience at all, except that they will be good conversational sports and listen to him ponder, the very realization of this reader-writer relationship helping both parties feel, somehow, less alone.
Dhitri
I usually steer clear from a book that merely repackages past essays but as I was waiting for my turn to borrow Franzen's latest work from the library, I figured I may as well pick up this book (another was his memoir) to fill in the gap. So I went into the book with minimal expectations, hoping to just skim through it. But I was transfixed the moment I read his opening essay, an account on Alzheimer and how his father, suffering long from the terrible disease, had slowly drifted into oblivion a I usually steer clear from a book that merely repackages past essays but as I was waiting for my turn to borrow Franzen's latest work from the library, I figured I may as well pick up this book (another was his memoir) to fill in the gap. So I went into the book with minimal expectations, hoping to just skim through it. But I was transfixed the moment I read his opening essay, an account on Alzheimer and how his father, suffering long from the terrible disease, had slowly drifted into oblivion and lost his self before finally dying of the disease and Alzheimer had chewed away not only his brain, but also his sense of being. It was poignant in understating the grief of loss and simply the agony of watching a beloved family member shrivel in such a way and just somehow, Franzen manages to throw in some wit into the piece.
Okay, I admit I was a little put off by Franzen crusade against the TV and internet and how he tries hard to sell himself as the last defender of truth and beauty by stubbornly resisting the mainstream fervour for new gadgets. But Franzen, as always, is brilliant at peeling the skin of the matter and arguing in a way that is both informative and relatable to the reader. Moreover, tracing the essays gives the reader a sense of how Franzen grew as a writer and as a person, stylistically and also psychologically. All in all, I have thoroughly enjoyed this collection and I now find myself watching out for more of his essays.
Andy
Fun! Poignant. Educational... I mean come on, they're essays. But they're good, many taken from articles Franzen wrote for Harper's, and other magazines, but just compiled together. The one about hate mail he gets from people who say he uses too many big, unnecessary words, and why he uses too many big, unnecessary words anyways, is fantastic. Also, the one about his father's illness and death is very interesting, and I related to it having had a great aunt who went through the various unpleasan Fun! Poignant. Educational... I mean come on, they're essays. But they're good, many taken from articles Franzen wrote for Harper's, and other magazines, but just compiled together. The one about hate mail he gets from people who say he uses too many big, unnecessary words, and why he uses too many big, unnecessary words anyways, is fantastic. Also, the one about his father's illness and death is very interesting, and I related to it having had a great aunt who went through the various unpleasant stages of mild to sever Alzheimer's. The other of my favorites (off the top of my head) was about the greater Chicago area U.S. Postal Service, which has been for decades, was at the time, and apparently still is, the singular most unreliable branch of the Postal Service in the United States, mostly because of incompetent management and ridiculously lazy and incompetent postal workers, from what I recall. An example was the fact that in parts of uptown Chicago, it was not uncommon to not receive any bills from, say, the power company for about three months, then you'll get all three months' worth in one day, or maybe the third month's one day, and three days later get the first two missing bills. Recreational drug use and drinking on the job were apparently regular occurrences for Chicago Postmen/women.
Celina
Jonathan Franzen is awfully cranky in some of these essays, but it's my kind of cranky. It's been nearly twenty years since some of them were written, and I wish he'd revisit some of these topics. I wonder what the young Franzen who railed against TV (bless him!) would make of today's wired world. I enjoyed his contrarian take on privacy: the problem is not so much identity theft or databases on every aspect of our lives, but the leaking of private behavior, like details of the president's sex l Jonathan Franzen is awfully cranky in some of these essays, but it's my kind of cranky. It's been nearly twenty years since some of them were written, and I wish he'd revisit some of these topics. I wonder what the young Franzen who railed against TV (bless him!) would make of today's wired world. I enjoyed his contrarian take on privacy: the problem is not so much identity theft or databases on every aspect of our lives, but the leaking of private behavior, like details of the president's sex life, into the public sphere; and then again, idyllic small-town life was never all that private either. He is eloquent on the joys of city life and does well against Witold Rybczynski's apologia for the suburbs. He is satisfyingly mean and prudish on the sex-advice and sexual-pleasure industries (a nice antidote to the recent ubiquity of Dan Savage et al.), although I wish he'd acknowledge the people who actually needed setting free from repression and whose lives are better thanks to those cringe-inducing videos and books. His essay on Supermax and maximum-security prisons, and the towns like Florence, Colorado, which host them, is just straight-up great journalism. Some of these essays are read on the audio edition by Franzen himself, which I loved; it was nice to hear my Midwestern grandfather's comforting accent expressing these opinions.
Phillip Twining
Throughout The Corrections and this book, the second I've read, I'm constantly oscillating from being at odds and being in accord with Jonathan Franzen. But whatever arguments or statements he makes in his essays, they seem to only be a departure point for him to try to figure out his own identity in the corporatized, neoliberal, and aggressive consumer culture of America... or at least most of them. I couldn't figure out where some of these essays found a place in this collection of "how to be Throughout The Corrections and this book, the second I've read, I'm constantly oscillating from being at odds and being in accord with Jonathan Franzen. But whatever arguments or statements he makes in his essays, they seem to only be a departure point for him to try to figure out his own identity in the corporatized, neoliberal, and aggressive consumer culture of America... or at least most of them. I couldn't figure out where some of these essays found a place in this collection of "how to be alone," e.g. the post office essay, and the privatized prison personalization felt tacked on. Franzen's a good writer, though, and you can't help but sympathize with many of his concerns.

I find it funny when people accuse him of being a self-aggrandizing intellectual, because his writing is so full of anxiety and want and a desire for simplicity. He's much more approachable than many writers I've read and so the personal essay works for him. Even accusing him of being a sell-out and a lousy, spineless Liberal becomes difficult when he exposes his uncertainties and his need to be loved. You can't help but empathize with the guy.

I, too, am afraid of the direction our culture is headed.
John
A 4.25

It was interesting to get into Franzen's nonfiction brain. I guess it was about what I expected. I enjoyed the diversity of topics. I appreciated him pulling back the veil a bit to show his humanity.

I laughed his line in The Reader in Exile contemplating if the Internet would ultimately be big news. Safe to say it was. But I get it from a 1995 perspective. In 1995 I have never been on the web. I didn't get an email account til the following year. It wad difficult to believe the promise th A 4.25

It was interesting to get into Franzen's nonfiction brain. I guess it was about what I expected. I enjoyed the diversity of topics. I appreciated him pulling back the veil a bit to show his humanity.

I laughed his line in The Reader in Exile contemplating if the Internet would ultimately be big news. Safe to say it was. But I get it from a 1995 perspective. In 1995 I have never been on the web. I didn't get an email account til the following year. It wad difficult to believe the promise that the internet would change out lives.

Perhaps the most profound section for me came from Scavenging. "Do I sound nostalgic? I am not. I don't hunger to return to those days.....I knew I was happy then, and so I can look back on those years and not miss them. I was present when they happened, that is enough." This is perhaps the best description of my own impressions about nostalgia I have read. I am confused by people who get mentally stuck levitating the past. The past becomes a jail. I have some great memories. I am glad I lived them. But I want to live today and look forward to living tomorrow.

Overall this was a very enjoyable read. Hard to pick favorites out of the selections, and most were very good.
Vache
I chose this book because my grandfather reccomended the author to me and this book seemed interesting. This book is a collection of essays written by Jonathan Franzen. The essays cover a wide variety of topics from the postal service to the supermax prison works. However, the essays all reflect one common theme: the deterioration of privacy and the art of being alone in modern America. My favorite quote from this book is: “Imagine that human existence is defined by an Ache: the Ache of our not I chose this book because my grandfather reccomended the author to me and this book seemed interesting. This book is a collection of essays written by Jonathan Franzen. The essays cover a wide variety of topics from the postal service to the supermax prison works. However, the essays all reflect one common theme: the deterioration of privacy and the art of being alone in modern America. My favorite quote from this book is: “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.” This quote is great because it really shows the truth of human nature, which is centered around self-satisfaction and constant thoughts of "How can I be happy?" and "How will this benefit me?" This quote states that maybe there is also satisfaction in doing good things for other people and that overcomeing the natural greed which lies in us will make the world a much better place. I think the writing style of the author is very clear and consice. Very easy to read andvery enjoyable to understand. I would definitley reccomend this book to anyone. It's a great quick read by a great author.
Inga
I re-read some of them last night. A lot of them describe the mental benefits (including the privacy of crowds) and retaining dignity and thoughtfulness in our media saturated society. But he's so good at describing loneliness and isolation. Try not to cry:

"My mother had long ago reconciled herself to staying in the house while her children fled to the coasts. We invited her to move to one of the coasts herself, but the house was her life, it was what she still had, it was not so much the site o I re-read some of them last night. A lot of them describe the mental benefits (including the privacy of crowds) and retaining dignity and thoughtfulness in our media saturated society. But he's so good at describing loneliness and isolation. Try not to cry:

"My mother had long ago reconciled herself to staying in the house while her children fled to the coasts. We invited her to move to one of the coasts herself, but the house was her life, it was what she still had, it was not so much the site of her loneliness as the antidote to it...For the last week or so before she was hospitalized, my mother couldn't keep any food down, and by the time I arrived her refrigerator was empty of almost anything but ancient condiments and delicacies. On the top shelf there was just a quart of skim milk, a tiny can of green peas with a square of foil on top, and, next to this can, a dish containing a single bite of peas. I was ambushed and nearly destroyed by this dish of peas. I was forced to imagine my mother alone in the house and willing herself to eat a bite of something, anything, a bite of peas, and finding herself unable to do so. With her usual frugality and optimism, she'd put both the can and the dish in the refrigerator, in case her appetite returned."
Brandon Floyd
Franzen is ferociously intelligent -he knows it, he wants us to know it too. How to Be Alone is curated as well as any book of essays can be, and even trends toward exceptional in relating seemingly disparate topics to one another by way of the collection's central theme. But there's such a removed voice here, of privilege, or an awareness of self-entitlement that borders on celebration, that makes these otherwise engaging essays seem smug and oddly labored. Not labored in a working sense, but a Franzen is ferociously intelligent -he knows it, he wants us to know it too. How to Be Alone is curated as well as any book of essays can be, and even trends toward exceptional in relating seemingly disparate topics to one another by way of the collection's central theme. But there's such a removed voice here, of privilege, or an awareness of self-entitlement that borders on celebration, that makes these otherwise engaging essays seem smug and oddly labored. Not labored in a working sense, but as if Franzen's inclination to even share his work should be enough to bring a reader to celebration.

All of that aside, Franzen knows to engage a topic from thoughtful and diverse angles. Most of what's featured in How to Be Alone is lengthy, but appropriately paced and moves forward in ways that push the central subject of each essay seamlessly along. When he gets personal Franzen is at his best, whether it be an entire piece that focus on his own past or contemporary (for the moment) experiences, or a small anecdote in an otherwise third-party exploration, there's certainly a sense of relatable, insecure charm to be found behind the bravado that overwhelmingly populates the author's voice.

John Rudd
In this book, Franzen comes off as a frustrated, angry White Male Author who is struggling to find his place in the world. And who happens to be a brilliant writer. This coincides with the impression he gives in the two other books of his that I have read - Freedom and Purity. Both books are brimming with cynicism and vexation, and yet are so beautifully written that these sins are forgivable.

I recommend this book to literature lovers, those who read complex novels with voracious appetites. Beca In this book, Franzen comes off as a frustrated, angry White Male Author who is struggling to find his place in the world. And who happens to be a brilliant writer. This coincides with the impression he gives in the two other books of his that I have read - Freedom and Purity. Both books are brimming with cynicism and vexation, and yet are so beautifully written that these sins are forgivable.

I recommend this book to literature lovers, those who read complex novels with voracious appetites. Because in many of these essays, Franzen struggles with the point or purpose of reading in the media-saturated society we live in. He doesn't come up with clear answers. He rejects the notion that reading somehow magically turns us into better people. Rather, he seems to believe that reading is an act of hope, an effort to find meaning and sustenance in a multivalent universe. If all that sounds dreary and dull, don't bother with this book. You'll come away frustrated, as he apparently is - though he does have some nice essays describing the Chicago Post Office and a Supermax Prison. I will say, though, that his essay on William Gaddis' The Recognitions prompted me to buy that book, which perhaps speaks to the power of Franzen's own writing.
Dan
I sort of give Franzen a pass on these essays because I like his other stuff so much. I think the collection is fairly forgettable, and I thought several of the essays lack clarity. Sometimes he doesn't seem to know what it is he's trying to get across. On the other hand, a couple of the essays were great. I liked the one about his Dad because I could see how he drew from these experiences to help write The Corrections. I also really like the essay Mr. Difficult, in which he lays out the debate I sort of give Franzen a pass on these essays because I like his other stuff so much. I think the collection is fairly forgettable, and I thought several of the essays lack clarity. Sometimes he doesn't seem to know what it is he's trying to get across. On the other hand, a couple of the essays were great. I liked the one about his Dad because I could see how he drew from these experiences to help write The Corrections. I also really like the essay Mr. Difficult, in which he lays out the debate over the purpose of books as either high art accessible to a select few (think Joyce or Pynchon) vs. the idea of a contract between reader and author where the idea is a discourse based on pleasure and connection. I think this is exactly right, and I was thrilled to seem him coming down on the side of connecting. He certainly has the brain power to go the other way, but he's also got too much common sense for that. What's the point of writing a book that is some great work of art if no one outside of a university is ever going to read it? I think that's the appeal of his other works of fiction, they're serious literature without being turning off everyone who isn't a doctoral candidate.
Angela
I'm not a huge fan of essays, especially essays discussing topics I have little interest in (needless to say, "Sifting the Ashes," the one about smoking, was not my favorite in the collection). Even so, I'm addicted to his style. The local favorites (that is, on goodreads) seem to be "My Father's Brain" and "Meet Me In St. Louis," and with good reason. I'm a sucker for a good introduction, and few things beat this:
Here's a memory. On an overcast morning in February 1996, I received in the mail f I'm not a huge fan of essays, especially essays discussing topics I have little interest in (needless to say, "Sifting the Ashes," the one about smoking, was not my favorite in the collection). Even so, I'm addicted to his style. The local favorites (that is, on goodreads) seem to be "My Father's Brain" and "Meet Me In St. Louis," and with good reason. I'm a sucker for a good introduction, and few things beat this:
Here's a memory. On an overcast morning in February 1996, I received in the mail from my mother, in St. Louis, a Valentine's package containing one pinkly romantic greeting card, two four-ounce Mr. Goodbars, one hollow red filigree heart on a loop of thread, and one copy of a neuropathologist's report on my father's brain autopsy.
I mean, wow.

This book will give you a complex, though. If you're anything like Franzen—the intelligent, literary type—you understand the concept of solitude. It should be comforting, at least, to see that there are others like yourself out there, but it just depressed me further because I haven't found any of them. The title is fitting, though we don't need any further instruction on how to be alone.
Sean McBride
I came to this book with a certain curious apprehension. I knew Franzen had a reputation for elitism and pessimisim, but I was also struck by the title and his love of and for reading. Then indeed you jump right into "My Father's Brain" (after the initial self-aggrandizing preface) a morose essay about how his father suffered and died from Alzhiemers. Damn, I thought, this is going to be a tough one.

I was right, there were times I laughed out loud at his pandering and bland cynicism, and there I came to this book with a certain curious apprehension. I knew Franzen had a reputation for elitism and pessimisim, but I was also struck by the title and his love of and for reading. Then indeed you jump right into "My Father's Brain" (after the initial self-aggrandizing preface) a morose essay about how his father suffered and died from Alzhiemers. Damn, I thought, this is going to be a tough one.

I was right, there were times I laughed out loud at his pandering and bland cynicism, and there were times I wanted to throw the book at the wall at his stubborness to change. Then you get to "Meet Me in St. Louis" right at the end (The essay about how he was shunned from Oprah) and the writing is so erudite and eloquent I nearly cried.

Then I realized that despite the fact that he is a pedant and a literary snob and he shoves it in your face, he's an amazing author. Hs intention is to bring you in on a low note and then gradually take step after step out from behind his shield of anonymity and bares his ugly EGO, then eventually and fluidly, brings you back to sympathy.
Carol
This book is alone worth reading for his essay on the great American novel, "Why Bother." This is the first time I have ever seen anyone write on this topic. As a teenager I started reading Great Books-type classics and decided that people who wrote novels really knew more than I did and I needed to read their books in order to understand the world around me. So I was very perplexed as I got older and read people like John Updike, for example, and realized that these people don't know anything m This book is alone worth reading for his essay on the great American novel, "Why Bother." This is the first time I have ever seen anyone write on this topic. As a teenager I started reading Great Books-type classics and decided that people who wrote novels really knew more than I did and I needed to read their books in order to understand the world around me. So I was very perplexed as I got older and read people like John Updike, for example, and realized that these people don't know anything more than I do! So I quit reading fiction for a long time and have recently gone back to it. Franzen thinks the novel presents a tragic view of the world. I don't think I agree with that but it's well worth reading the other things he has to say about why it is worthwhile to read novels today.

As for the other essays, with the exception of the one about his father's alzheimer's, they were like newspaper reporter articles. What's more, he has a decidedly depressed view of the world. I think he is probably suffering from some level of depression so I would not want to spend a lot of time either with him or his books.
Jennifer
I assume the working title of this book was, 'I Fear Change - Now Where's My Dictaphone?' Oh, Jonathan Franzen...

I enjoyed a few of the essays, but I cannot read Franzen when he dicusses technology or almost any other aspect of modern life. It truly never seems to occur to him that just because something is new or different, that doesn't make it bad. It's almost laughably predictable after a while. He's writing in the mid-to-late 90s, so he prefers cassette tapes to CDs, and typewriters are sup I assume the working title of this book was, 'I Fear Change - Now Where's My Dictaphone?' Oh, Jonathan Franzen...

I enjoyed a few of the essays, but I cannot read Franzen when he dicusses technology or almost any other aspect of modern life. It truly never seems to occur to him that just because something is new or different, that doesn't make it bad. It's almost laughably predictable after a while. He's writing in the mid-to-late 90s, so he prefers cassette tapes to CDs, and typewriters are superior to word processors. If he'd been writing 100 years earlier, his essays would discuss how automobiles were destroying the clearly perfect means of transportation via horseback, and maybe trains. No, no - he would stubbornly insist on traveling via stagecoach instead of those pervasively menacing trains.

You get the point. Franzen's a smart man and a talented writer, but he comes off like a one-note Luddite at least half the time. Maybe it's because my brain has been rotted by the InterNet and my soul has been hollowed out because I'm constantly using my cellular telephone, but most of these essays did not ring true for me. At all.
Adam
This is a great collection of Franzen essays of varying lengths, depth and subject matter. Most of them are from before or shortly after The Corrections came out, and I had never read any of them before.

I love Franzen's writing style, and it's always interesting to see it applied to personal, nonfiction pieces like the ones he writes for the New Yorker, which I believe is where many of these were originally published (before I had taken notice of him). All of the essays are thoughtful, analytica This is a great collection of Franzen essays of varying lengths, depth and subject matter. Most of them are from before or shortly after The Corrections came out, and I had never read any of them before.

I love Franzen's writing style, and it's always interesting to see it applied to personal, nonfiction pieces like the ones he writes for the New Yorker, which I believe is where many of these were originally published (before I had taken notice of him). All of the essays are thoughtful, analytical and funny, even if a little self-indulgent at times. Some of them require a little bit of patience, the lengthy one about the Chicago postal system being the most notable example. Overall, though, this is a very enjoyable and worthwhile compilation. It's perfect for browsing and skipping around, and you can easily put it down periodically and then pick up later wherever you left off. In fact, a lot of the essays feel like they were written the same way -- in spurts, with periods of time in between sections. I recommend it.

Shana Kennedy
Great quote from this book that I really relate to:
"...I admit an almost physical craving for the comforts of the suburban mall. Natural opiates flood my neural receptors when I step from the parking lot into the airlock...I have cash in my wallet, my skin is white, and I feel utterly, utterly welcome...
"My craving for city life feels entirely different... cities represent an older, less advanced stage in the development of buying and selling, in which producers work cheek by jowl with consumers Great quote from this book that I really relate to:
"...I admit an almost physical craving for the comforts of the suburban mall. Natural opiates flood my neural receptors when I step from the parking lot into the airlock...I have cash in my wallet, my skin is white, and I feel utterly, utterly welcome...
"My craving for city life feels entirely different... cities represent an older, less advanced stage in the development of buying and selling, in which producers work cheek by jowl with consumers and the whole economic mechanism is open to inspection and so is less susceptible to the seamless enchantment of modern sales pitches; and, more generally, that there's something in the very nature of cities which enforces adult responsibility... it's far easier on the streets of New York to have experiences that have nothing to do with the spending of money than it is in the typical galleria."

Overall though I didn't love this book. The essays, especially on readers and reading, got to be laborious, repetitive, and over-analytical.
Anne
Years ago I read Franzen's The Corrections after the whole Oprah Book Club debacle. I hated it. So, I was a little reluctant to read his book of essays. But, I was pleasantly surprised. It reminded me of how I really disliked Richard Ford's novel The Sportswriter, but I loved his collection of short stories Multitude of Sins. I guess some authors are just better to some readers in different genres. The 14 different essays in the collection explore the idea of being alone in a world full of peopl Years ago I read Franzen's The Corrections after the whole Oprah Book Club debacle. I hated it. So, I was a little reluctant to read his book of essays. But, I was pleasantly surprised. It reminded me of how I really disliked Richard Ford's novel The Sportswriter, but I loved his collection of short stories Multitude of Sins. I guess some authors are just better to some readers in different genres. The 14 different essays in the collection explore the idea of being alone in a world full of people. The first essay concerning his father's Alzheimers is incredible. He has a number of essays, including his famed "Harper's Essay" that explore the fate of the modern novel and what it means to be a writer in an increasingly non-literary world. Franzen is pretentious and strikes me as a little too into his suffering as a genius the world can't yet appreciate, but he has some nice perspectives on the United States Postal Service, American prison culture, and technology. I wouldn't read these all at once, but piece by piece, Franzen is well worth spending some time alone with.
Dawn
This is taking me a while to finish, mainly because I have to think more when I'm reading essays and nonfiction. Not only that, but Franzen writes so intelligently, I struggle to catch all his meaning. In other words, some of this frankly goes right over my head. I've decided that it takes a special skill to read Franzen, for the same reason it took me three tries to finish Infinite Jest. There's just so much packed in there, it's easy to miss all the layers.

My favorite essay so far is about th This is taking me a while to finish, mainly because I have to think more when I'm reading essays and nonfiction. Not only that, but Franzen writes so intelligently, I struggle to catch all his meaning. In other words, some of this frankly goes right over my head. I've decided that it takes a special skill to read Franzen, for the same reason it took me three tries to finish Infinite Jest. There's just so much packed in there, it's easy to miss all the layers.

My favorite essay so far is about the US Postal Service and specifically, the Chicago Post Office. Very entertaining. I enjoy Franzen's essays best when he's writing about something outside himself. Although I can very much relate to being a "social isolate" reader (from his essay, "Why Bother?") and to DeLillo's quote: "Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals."
Emily Gould
I didn't quite get through all the essays in the book, so I can't speak with authority about the whole thing but...

It's a book for people who like to read essays, so if you don't like essays, don't bother.

Those who have reservations about the whole digital revolution will probably appreciate Franzen's sentiments. Most of the essays were written in the mid to late 90s, but the privacy invasion issues he brings up are as relevant as ever.

His definition of "privacy invasion" is not what you'd think I didn't quite get through all the essays in the book, so I can't speak with authority about the whole thing but...

It's a book for people who like to read essays, so if you don't like essays, don't bother.

Those who have reservations about the whole digital revolution will probably appreciate Franzen's sentiments. Most of the essays were written in the mid to late 90s, but the privacy invasion issues he brings up are as relevant as ever.

His definition of "privacy invasion" is not what you'd think. It has little to do with identity theft or your dirty pictures on facebook or whatever. It's people on cell phones chatting to their friends about their drunk Friday night, their bad date, their tipped uterous or whatever other vapid shit you'd rather shoot yourself than have to endure listening to. It's tabloid magazines in the grocery store exclaiming in bold red letters about Britney Spears's intervention. It's reporters jumping all over restroom-related indiscretions. Some may say "just ignore it if you don't want to hear about it." But Franzen's point is that you can't.

Thomas
This is actually the first Franzen book I've read. I haven't read his major novels. HTBA is a compilation of nonfiction essays from magazines.

The first thing I noticed about his writing style is the comfort and ease with which he wields a large vocabulary. It is apparent early on that Jon Franzen isn't trying to impress you with words he knows, but at the same time he could care less about talking down to your level. Franzen is a self-acknowledged bookworm who likes complicated vocabulary and sy This is actually the first Franzen book I've read. I haven't read his major novels. HTBA is a compilation of nonfiction essays from magazines.

The first thing I noticed about his writing style is the comfort and ease with which he wields a large vocabulary. It is apparent early on that Jon Franzen isn't trying to impress you with words he knows, but at the same time he could care less about talking down to your level. Franzen is a self-acknowledged bookworm who likes complicated vocabulary and syntax, and who uses them masterfully.

The second thing I noticed is that Franzen reports that he is frequently depressed, and his fear of society keeps him from breaking out of his depression cycle. What makes his writing interesting, frankly, is his awareness of these dynamics and his ability to explain them and to appreciate how they play out in his life. His self-awareness adds greatly to his wisdom. He's definitely a downer, though.
Hung-ya
I do not think with all the books I have read so far ever since I was a kid, I have never hated a book or a writer for that matter this much. When I read the first few pages, I was actually in love with Jonathan Franzen' s writing. I thought, hmmmm, I wonder why so many readers hate his writing so much while critics often say good things about this man. But then when I ventured into the second chapter of How To Be Alone, that was when every bit of my positive feeling about this guy went downhill I do not think with all the books I have read so far ever since I was a kid, I have never hated a book or a writer for that matter this much. When I read the first few pages, I was actually in love with Jonathan Franzen' s writing. I thought, hmmmm, I wonder why so many readers hate his writing so much while critics often say good things about this man. But then when I ventured into the second chapter of How To Be Alone, that was when every bit of my positive feeling about this guy went downhill. I started to lose grip of what exactly he was on about and what he exactly tried to prove here. I understand that he touched upon a lot of topics and made some arguments and stuff, but there are actually so many more writers who can talk about everything with so much more consistent spirit in conveying and delivering something he or she has in mind.

I do not think I will ever read Jonathan Franzen' s works again.
Anne
Interesting, fresh, but largely despairing and often just flat-out overly analytical in its insights and reflections, as some subjects don't hold up to the weight. Eg: speaking of phones and high tech,

Touch-tones repel me. I don't like their sterile rings, their plethora of features, their belatedness of design, the whole complacency of their hegemony. I prefer the reproachful heaviness of my rotary.

65%

Seriously? Overall I love his writing style and rich vocabulary, but for about half the book Interesting, fresh, but largely despairing and often just flat-out overly analytical in its insights and reflections, as some subjects don't hold up to the weight. Eg: speaking of phones and high tech,

Touch-tones repel me. I don't like their sterile rings, their plethora of features, their belatedness of design, the whole complacency of their hegemony. I prefer the reproachful heaviness of my rotary.

65%

Seriously? Overall I love his writing style and rich vocabulary, but for about half the book the tenor and subjects mixed in make for a somewhat weird if not uneasy mélange. The upshot overall is good but at times begs for a bit of a ...break. After some chapters, all I feel like doing is to grab a Popsicle and go for a walk in the sunshine :). Some, like the one about the post office, are full of information and offer both a wide sweep yet fine-grained details. The various essays are filled with dense food for thought and I am glad I read this.
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