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How to Be Alone: Essays

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How to Be Alone: Essays Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Passionate, strong-minded nonfiction from the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections

Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections was the best-loved and most-written-about novel of 2001. Nearly every in-depth review of it discussed what became known as "The Harper's Essay," Franzen's controversial 1996 investigation of the fate of the American novel. This essay is reprinted for the first time in How to be Alone, along with the personal essays and the dead-on reportage that earned Franzen a wide readership before the success of The Corrections. Although his subjects range from the sex-advice industry to the way a supermax prison works, each piece wrestles with familiar themes of Franzen's writing: the erosion of civic life and private dignity and the hidden persistence of loneliness in postmodern, imperial America. Recent pieces include a moving essay on his father's stuggle with Alzheimer's disease (which has already been reprinted around the world) and a rueful account of Franzen's brief tenure as an Oprah Winfrey author.

As a collection, these essays record what Franzen calls "a movement away from an angry and frightened isolation toward an acceptance--even a celebration--of being a reader and a writer." At the same time they show the wry distrust of the claims of technology and psychology, the love-hate relationship with consumerism, and the subversive belief in the tragic shape of the individual life that help make Franzen one of our sharpest, toughest, and most entertaining social critics.

Jonathan Franzen won the National Book Award for fiction for The Corrections in 2001, and is the author of two other critically acclaimed novels, The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion (all FSG). He is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and Harper's.

A New York Times Notable Book

Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections was one of the best-loved and most written-about novels of 2001. Nearly every in-depth review of it discussed what became known as "the Harper's essay," Franzen's controversial 1996 investigation of the fate of the American novel. This essay is reprinted for the first time in How to Be Alone, along with the personal narratives and the dead-on reportage that earned Franzen a wide readership before the success of The Corrections. Although his subjects range from the sex-advice industry to the way a supermax prison works, each essay wrestles with essential themes of Franzen's writing: the erosion of civic life and private dignity, and the hidden persistence of loneliness in postmodern, imperial America. Recent pieces include a moving narrative about his father's struggle with Alzheimer's disease (which won a National Magazine Award and has been reprinted around the world) and a rueful account of Franzen's brief tenure as an Oprah Winfrey author.

Here, in fourteen essays, are fourteen fresh answers to the question of how to be alone in a noisy and distracting mass culture. These essays reveal the wry distrust of the claims of technology and psychology, the love-hate relationship with consumerism, and the subversive belief in the tragic shape of the individual life that help make Franzen one of our sharpest, toughest, and most entertaining social critics.

"Although Franzen calls them 'essays' many of these pieces are reportage. He's good at it . . . All these pieces place both writer and reader on firm ground . . . He goes out on many a limb (as essayists should) and gives us a good many things to think about, such as the blurring line between private and public behavior in the age of the 24-hour news cycle."Dan Sullivan, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Captivating . . . The welcome paradox in How to Be Alone is that the reader need not feel isolated at all. The author makes himself a colorful presence throughout these essays complete with his slew of improbably attractive quirks . . . Mr. Franzen frequently celebrates the realization that being alone with a good book is the very opposite of an isolating experience. With considerable wit and minimal curmudgeonliness, he also laments the scarcity of such experiences in a culture that is co-opted and consumed by non-literary temptations. He admits to being enough of a purist to think longingly of times when 'a new book by Thackeray or William Dean Howells was anticipated with the kind of fever that a late-December film release inspires today' . . . This collection emphasizes his elegance, acumen, and daring as an essayist, with an intellectually engaging self-awareness as formidable as Joan Didion's."Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"[An] unfailingly intelligent, intermittently infuriating and notably coherent collection . . . The 13 essays in How to Be Alone, which appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's magazine, and other publications between 1994 and 2001, record a sensibility in perpetual conflict with the world around it, and with itselfagonized by contradiction and addicted to ambivalence . . . The accomplishment of this book is to offer its cranky author and his like-minded readers a suitably contradictory and ambiguous consolation: we're not alone."A. O. Scott, The New York Times Book Review

"A graceful meditation on reading and writing in a digital age . . . Franzen probes two very simple ideas: 'the movement away from an angry and frightened isolation toward an acceptanceeven a celebrationof being a reader and a writer' and 'the problem of preserving individuality and complexity in a noisy and distracting mass culture.'"Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., The Altanta Journal-Constitution

"Franzen believes the monolithic quality of the U.S. media, its jingoistic flattening of complex issues and the rush to hop on the information superhighway are a constant assault on the internal lives of Americans . . . These are essays about the pain of being an American in a time when the means to alleviating pain threaten to dehumanize pain itself, when the means for entertaining ourselves have become so sophisticated it's almost hard to complain. There's some boldness, then, in how Franzen reclaims his pain on the page, owning up to it and, as any good journalist will, making it our own, too."John Freeman, The San Francisco Chronicle

"Although Franzen calls them 'essays' many of these pieces are reportage. He's good at it . . . All these pieces place both writer and reader on firm ground . . . He goes out on many a limb (as essayists should) and gives us a good many things to think about, such as the blurring line between private and public behavior in the age of the 24-hour news cycle."Dan Sullivan, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"How To Be Alone impresses with the consistency of its concerns . . . As he bemoans the decline of the engaged social novel, of the city, of the US post office, Franzen risks sounding at best like a fogey, at worst like a scaremongering Luddite; but this is counteracted by wit, aphoristic flair and a critical awareness of the ironies of an accelerated culture; where cutting-edge writing is forced to react against, refuse, resist the advance of cutting-edge technology . . . His next move is going to be fascinating: poised between the twin abysses of celebrity and neglect, which way will he jump?"Paul Quinn, Times Literary Supplement (London)

"If Franzen had not been anointed to the Higher Calling of Literature, he might have made a terrific journalist . . . Two of the reportage pieces are models of the New Journalism."Roger K. Miller, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

"Franzen is a charming and sagacious writer, even an important one, a man who cares about literature and who cares about the problems of modernityrace, urban sprawl, corporate hegemony. Books matter, is the final message. A keen intellect is at work here, even though Franzen often seems to be arguing with himself; perhaps How to Be Alone is most brilliant when the author is arguing with himself. Jonathan Franzen has a restless mind and we are better for it."Corey Mesler, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis)

"A collection of essays diverse and entertaining . . . Smart, solid, and well-paced: a pleasure for Franzen's many admirers."Kirkus Reviews

"[Franzen] demonstrates his remarkable capacity for evaluating the American scene . . . The journalistic pieces included in the book show that Franzen ain't afraid to face facts . . . Essays covering the tobacco industry and the 2001 presidential election, as well as consumerism and the nature of privacy in America, offer rare evaluations of the modern world as we know it."Bookpage

Review:

"As a nonfiction advocate for his one-man novelistic cause, Franzen doesn't ape the Norman Mailer of Advertisements for Myself and flaunt his ambition like a Popeye tattoo, muscling aside the competition to clear more legroom for himself in the first-class section. Nor does he try to blow up the rickety structures blocking his own fictional constructions, like Tom Wolfe in some of his broadsides. As with so many of his generation, Franzen is conflicted about conflict. Arguing is what grownups do when they are mad (Mommy, Daddy, don't fight); and swagger doesn't play well on the current scene, which has partly converted into a Generation X recovery ward for the depressed, medicated, and formerly addicted children of divorce. Rather than swinging from the heels, he hugs the ropes in these essays, taking all the pain, the indignity, and the bland indifference that a mass-media culture can inflict on a passionate bookworm. He is not a masochist, he is a shrewd passive-aggressive (aren't they all?), courting sympathy by constantly telling us where he hurts and fastening reader interest on himself, regardless of the issue or controversy. No matter what is flying around Franzen, the soft-focus lens is always on him." James Wolcott, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)

Review:

"I reached the limits of my tolerance for most essays about "the writer's life" long ago, but I've always got time for good writing about reading. The miscellaneous pieces in this collection are not exclusively on that subject — there are reported pieces on the Chicago post office, prisons and Franzen's father's death from Alzheimer's disease, as well — but the author of The Corrections has a respect for readers and a concern for the practice of reading that's surprisingly and lamentably rare among his colleagues....If the collection has any one theme, it's a very welcome one, on the value of privacy, of stretching out in the space inside one's own head and of not allowing your preoccupations to be dictated by the media's jangly siren song." Laura Miller, Salon.com

Synopsis:

Passionate, strong-minded nonfiction from the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections

Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections was the best-loved and most-written-about novel of 2001. Nearly every in-depth review of it discussed what became known as "The Harper's Essay," Franzen's controversial 1996 investigation of the fate of the American novel. This essay is reprinted for the first time in How to be Alone, along with the personal essays and the dead-on reportage that earned Franzen a wide readership before the success of The Corrections. Although his subjects range from the sex-advice industry to the way a supermax prison works, each piece wrestles with familiar themes of Franzen's writing: the erosion of civic life and private dignity and the hidden persistence of loneliness in postmodern, imperial America. Recent pieces include a moving essay on his father's stuggle with Alzheimer's disease (which has already been reprinted around the world) and a rueful account of Franzen's brief tenure as an Oprah Winfrey author.

As a collection, these essays record what Franzen calls "a movement away from an angry and frightened isolation toward an acceptance--even a celebration--of being a reader and a writer." At the same time they show the wry distrust of the claims of technology and psychology, the love-hate relationship with consumerism, and the subversive belief in the tragic shape of the individual life that help make Franzen one of our sharpest, toughest, and most entertaining social critics.

Synopsis:

Passionate, strong-minded nonfiction from the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections

Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections was the best-loved and most-written-about novel of 2001. Nearly every in-depth review of it discussed what became known as "The Harper's Essay," Franzen's controversial 1996 investigation of the fate of the American novel. This essay is reprinted for the first time in How to be Alone, along with the personal essays and the dead-on reportage that earned Franzen a wide readership before the success of The Corrections. Although his subjects range from the sex-advice industry to the way a supermax prison works, each piece wrestles with familiar themes of Franzen's writing: the erosion of civic life and private dignity and the hidden persistence of loneliness in postmodern, imperial America. Recent pieces include a moving essay on his father's stuggle with Alzheimer's disease (which has already been reprinted around the world) and a rueful account of Franzen's brief tenure as an Oprah Winfrey author.

As a collection, these essays record what Franzen calls "a movement away from an angry and frightened isolation toward an acceptance--even a celebration--of being a reader and a writer." At the same time they show the wry distrust of the claims of technology and psychology, the love-hate relationship with consumerism, and the subversive belief in the tragic shape of the individual life that help make Franzen one of our sharpest, toughest, and most entertaining social critics.

About the Author

Jonathan Franzen won the National Book Award for fiction for The Corrections in 2001, and is the author of two other critically acclaimed novels, The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion. He is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and Harper's.

Table of Contents

"A Word About This Book"

"My Father's Brain"

"Imperial Bedroom"

"Why Bother"

"Lost in the Mail"

"Erika Imports"

"Sifting the Ashes"

"A Reader in Exile"

"First City"

"Scavenging"

"Control Units"

"Mr. Difficult"

"Books in Bed"

"Meet Me in St. Louis"

"Inauguration Day, January 2001"

Product Details

ISBN:
9780374173272
Subtitle:
Essays
Author:
Franzen, Jonathan
Author:
Brian d'Arcy James
Publisher:
Picador
Location:
New York
Subject:
Essays
Subject:
American
Subject:
U.S. Government
Subject:
Individuality
Subject:
Government - U.S. Government
Subject:
General Literary Criticism & Collections
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Series Volume:
no. 01-15
Publication Date:
October 2002
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
7 CDs, 8 hours
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.50 in

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How to Be Alone: Essays Used Hardcover
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$10.95 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374173272 Reviews:
"Review" by , "As a nonfiction advocate for his one-man novelistic cause, Franzen doesn't ape the Norman Mailer of Advertisements for Myself and flaunt his ambition like a Popeye tattoo, muscling aside the competition to clear more legroom for himself in the first-class section. Nor does he try to blow up the rickety structures blocking his own fictional constructions, like Tom Wolfe in some of his broadsides. As with so many of his generation, Franzen is conflicted about conflict. Arguing is what grownups do when they are mad (Mommy, Daddy, don't fight); and swagger doesn't play well on the current scene, which has partly converted into a Generation X recovery ward for the depressed, medicated, and formerly addicted children of divorce. Rather than swinging from the heels, he hugs the ropes in these essays, taking all the pain, the indignity, and the bland indifference that a mass-media culture can inflict on a passionate bookworm. He is not a masochist, he is a shrewd passive-aggressive (aren't they all?), courting sympathy by constantly telling us where he hurts and fastening reader interest on himself, regardless of the issue or controversy. No matter what is flying around Franzen, the soft-focus lens is always on him." (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review" by , "I reached the limits of my tolerance for most essays about "the writer's life" long ago, but I've always got time for good writing about reading. The miscellaneous pieces in this collection are not exclusively on that subject — there are reported pieces on the Chicago post office, prisons and Franzen's father's death from Alzheimer's disease, as well — but the author of The Corrections has a respect for readers and a concern for the practice of reading that's surprisingly and lamentably rare among his colleagues....If the collection has any one theme, it's a very welcome one, on the value of privacy, of stretching out in the space inside one's own head and of not allowing your preoccupations to be dictated by the media's jangly siren song."
"Synopsis" by ,
Passionate, strong-minded nonfiction from the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections

Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections was the best-loved and most-written-about novel of 2001. Nearly every in-depth review of it discussed what became known as "The Harper's Essay," Franzen's controversial 1996 investigation of the fate of the American novel. This essay is reprinted for the first time in How to be Alone, along with the personal essays and the dead-on reportage that earned Franzen a wide readership before the success of The Corrections. Although his subjects range from the sex-advice industry to the way a supermax prison works, each piece wrestles with familiar themes of Franzen's writing: the erosion of civic life and private dignity and the hidden persistence of loneliness in postmodern, imperial America. Recent pieces include a moving essay on his father's stuggle with Alzheimer's disease (which has already been reprinted around the world) and a rueful account of Franzen's brief tenure as an Oprah Winfrey author.

As a collection, these essays record what Franzen calls "a movement away from an angry and frightened isolation toward an acceptance--even a celebration--of being a reader and a writer." At the same time they show the wry distrust of the claims of technology and psychology, the love-hate relationship with consumerism, and the subversive belief in the tragic shape of the individual life that help make Franzen one of our sharpest, toughest, and most entertaining social critics.

"Synopsis" by ,
Passionate, strong-minded nonfiction from the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections

Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections was the best-loved and most-written-about novel of 2001. Nearly every in-depth review of it discussed what became known as "The Harper's Essay," Franzen's controversial 1996 investigation of the fate of the American novel. This essay is reprinted for the first time in How to be Alone, along with the personal essays and the dead-on reportage that earned Franzen a wide readership before the success of The Corrections. Although his subjects range from the sex-advice industry to the way a supermax prison works, each piece wrestles with familiar themes of Franzen's writing: the erosion of civic life and private dignity and the hidden persistence of loneliness in postmodern, imperial America. Recent pieces include a moving essay on his father's stuggle with Alzheimer's disease (which has already been reprinted around the world) and a rueful account of Franzen's brief tenure as an Oprah Winfrey author.

As a collection, these essays record what Franzen calls "a movement away from an angry and frightened isolation toward an acceptance--even a celebration--of being a reader and a writer." At the same time they show the wry distrust of the claims of technology and psychology, the love-hate relationship with consumerism, and the subversive belief in the tragic shape of the individual life that help make Franzen one of our sharpest, toughest, and most entertaining social critics.

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