Friday, December 21, 2007

How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen

Like the other collections of essays I've reviewed this year, How to Be Alone doesn't lend itself to easy reviewing. It's made up of a series of essays that Franzen wrote between 1995 and 200o-something, and they cover topics ranging from his father's slow descent into Alzheimers, to some of the unbelivable oversights of the US Postal Service, to the ubiquity of sex-help books.

I found the essays in the collection quite moving and interesting for the most part. The running theme throughout is a loss of privacy and personality in a modern world, but the essays rarely seem curmudgeonly. The exception is his essay on literature in which he direly predicts that the novel will be virtually extinct within a few years, a bit of a paranoid reaction to have immediately before hitting it big with The Corrections. And, speaking of that book, the first essay about his father's disease makes it clear just how personal much of that work was. My favorite essays, however, were the one about the derelict postal service in inner city Chicago, and 'Reading in Bed,' the bes essay on sex in the public life that I've read.

If you enjoy essays (or if you liked The Corrections, as I did) you'll probably enjoy How to Be Alone. At least check out 'Reading in Bed.'

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