Maria Popova (on solitude)

“The choice of solitude, of active aloneness, has relevance…to all human bonds — even Emerson, perhaps the most eloquent champion of friendship in the English language, lived a significant portion of his life in active solitude, the very state that enabled him to produce his enduring essays and journals. And yet that choice is one our culture treats with equal parts apprehension and contempt, particularly in our age of fetishistic connectivity. Hemingway’s famous assertion that solitude is essential for creative work is perhaps so oft-cited precisely because it is so radical and unnerving….

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Jonathan Franzen (fictional glimpse: doomed male desire)

There’s nothing exceptional about this extract, which is the brilliance of Franzen’s Freedom. It is full of tawdry modern incidences and aggravatingly imperfect characters that we love, distrust, admire, roll our eyes about and want to shout at. It is also full of invention and lively details, superbly written but easily readable. (A little stamina will be needed, but. There’s another one here.) Sometimes he is nastily funny, and sometimes he makes depressingly accurate observations about how the “comfort-loving peoples of the West” live these days. (Which category does this micro-excerpt fit for you?)

Here, young and newly-wed Joey arrives at the airport to meet the most impossibly beautiful woman he’s known and (maybe) begin a torrid South American affair. (I won’t try to explain the ring.)

“The wedding ring was still stalled somewhere in his abdomen as he breasted through the churning warm sea of travellers at Miami International and located Jenna in the cooler, calm bay of a business-class lounge. She was wearing sunglasses and was additionally defended by an iPod and the latest Conde Nast Traveller. She gave Joey a once-over, head to toe, the way a person might confirm that a product she’d ordered had arrived in acceptable condition, and then removed the hand luggage from the seat beside her and — a little reluctantly, it seemed — pulled the iPod wires from her ears. Joey sat down smiling helplessly at the amazement of travelling with her. He’d never flown business-class before.”

Jonathan Franzen is an American novellist that you’ve likely heard of. I mull over the story of Joey Berglund and his family, with whom I’ve lived for a couple of weeks. I’ve gotten very close to his parents, Walter and Patty, though they drive me crazy.


Jonathan Franzen (in Freedom, on rival wives)

After a small festival of reading Franzen non-fiction, and non-fiction about Franzen, and speculating idly about the famous Franzen Twitter-aversitude, I dived into his most recent novel, Freedom. I read and enjoyed his The Corrections six or seven years ago, and have been waiting for “the right time” to start his newest. ‘Nuff waitin. Ain’t no ‘right time’. (Unless it’s now.) I’m a quite delicious (thank you) 164 pages in, with no real effort. Here are just a few sentences — the last knocked me out — brief character description that somehow implies an entire generational critique. Merrie Paulsen is a neighbour of protagonist Patty Berglund’s, and not in her fan club:

“Another problem…was that Patty was no great progressive and certainly no feminist (staying home with her birthday calendar, baking those goddamned birthday cookies) and seemed altogether allergic to politics. If you mentioned an election or a candidate to her, you could see her struggling and failing to be her usual cheerful self — see her becoming agitated and doing too much nodding, too much yeah-yeahing. Merrie, who was ten years older than Patty and looked every year of it, had formerly been active with the SDS in Madison and was now very active in the craze for Beaujolais nouveau…”

Jonathan Franzen, pp. 8-9 of the paperbook version of Freedom, just getting rolling. The SDS, for you youngsters and un-Americans, was the radical organization Students for a Democratic Society, which had no interest in wine or gentrification at all.



Jonathan Franzen (on Alice Munro)

“Reading Munro puts me in that state of quiet reflection in which I think about my own life: about the decisions I’ve made, the things I’ve done and haven’t done, the kind of person I am, the prospect of death. She is one of the handful of writers, some living, most dead, whom I have in mind when I say that fiction is my religion. For as long as I’m immersed in a Munro story, I am according to an entirely make-believe character the kind of solemn respect and quiet rooting interest that I accord myself in my better moments as a human being.”

Jonathan Franzen is the great American novellist (The Corrections, Freedom, and a brilliant non-fiction collection called How To Be Alone, among others). He paid the most breathtakingly erudite tribute to Ms. Munro in a 2004 New York Times review of her collection Runaway. This remarkable piece lauds the greatness of Alice Munro, and criticizes literary fashion and our culture’s blindness, in one restless, contrarian, impassioned and unpredictable essay.

(Far Off)

BLURT4: Haven’t read Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom, but delighted to learn How To Be Alone, meditations upon writing, justice, much else.


BLURT5: Transcontinental Skype: disjointed, blurry, blurty, inaudible, peevish. But OH, the loveliness of family-ar faces, even metallic voices.