Synopses & Reviews
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.
"These canny, well-researched essays...range over a variety of subjects...but they are united by a single passionate insistence that, in a cookie-cutter world, people who want simply to be themselves should have the right to do so." Publishers Weekly
"The other essays, most previously published in Details, the New Yorker, and elsewhere, deliver sufficient bang for the book, though none quite stands up to the centerpiece [Harper's essay]....Smart, solid, and well-paced: a pleasure for Franzen's many remaining admirers." Kirkus Reviews
"The author makes himself a colorful presence throughout these essays....This collection emphasizes his elegance, acumen and daring as an essayist....He's funny, too....How to Be Alone is a captivating but uneven collection. Some of its entries have clearly aged better than others....The more recent entries, less showy about their brilliance, tend to flow more smoothly." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"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
"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
"The welcome paradox in How to be Alone
is that the reader need not feel isolated at all. . ..This collection emphasizes [Franzen's] elegance, acumen and daring as an essayist, with an intellectually engaging self-awareness as formidable as Joan Didion's." --The New York Times
"Why be alone? For the pleasure of reading books such as this." --Entertainment Weekly
"Franzen critiques the alienating effects of postmodern America with just as much passion as he displays in his fiction. . .he cuts to the truth with razor-sharp precision. . . These essays offer a great reason to turn of the TV and spend the evening alone, lost in thought." --Time Out New York
"How to be Alone reaffirms the novelist's prerogative to engage in social criticism. And Franzen's calm, passionate critical authority derives not from any special expertise in criminology, neurology or postal science, but rather from the fact that, as a novelist, he is principally concerned with the messy architecture of the self." --The New York Times Book Review
"There is here the eloquence and sensitivity and profound personal engagement that is only possible with the printed word--and, even then, only when it has no fear of being literature. Put Franzen among the living heroes of it." --The Buffalo News
From the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections, a collection of essays that reveal him to be one of the 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"
"Lost in the Mail"
"Sifting the Ashes"
"A Reader in Exile"
"Books in Bed"
"Meet Me in St. Louis"
"Inauguration Day, January 2001"