How to Be Alone is a collection of essays composed by the author of the award-winning novel The Corrections. These pieces, mostly written and published before Jonathan Franzen became a house hold name in 2001 are a varied mixture of concerns, subjects and nagging ruminations that are sutured together by a common thread punctuated by the title’s allusion to the problem of living in our hard-wired, fast-paced, technology-saturated, consumer society. In How to Be Alone’s most talked about essay titled Why Bother?, Franzen asks of us, as though he knows the answer but wants desperately the medium to lament the decline in reading, curiosity, critical thinking and other vital social values and skills, does the social novel have an affective relevance within a culture where it must compete for attention and value with the inane banalities of reality television celebrities, babbling cable news pundits, tabloid sensationalism and a nation of information consumers whose capacity to read beyond headlines or pay close attention for more than a sound byte continues to decline by the power and influence of popular culture, the mass media, television and the internet?
Franzen is an intelligent and engaging novelist who grapples with questions concerning the artist’s role in today’s consumer society and the social meaning and impact of the rapidly eroding borders between private and public life. One of the last essays reflects upon Oprah having selected The Corrections for her book club and the mini controversy that followed. Highly recommended.
How to be alone