[Review] How to be Alone by Jonathan Franzen

For this week I am featuring two books by Jonathan Franzen, an American novelist who is probably best known for the critically-acclaimed books: The Corrections and Freedom. I have yet to read The Corrections and I have Freedom somewhere in my bookshelves for almost a year now but haven't had the guts to pick it up due to its size (literally!). The two books featured however are from Franzen's non-fiction works. Here's Part 1:


Title: How to be Alone
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Page: 320 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction
Subject: Essays
First Published: September 1st 2002


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.
- Synopsis from www.goodreads.com

This is one of the few non-fiction books that I have in my collection. I picked up this book one day while browsing aimlessly in the book store and this book in particular caught my attention, because of it's title. Simple but I was curious about it and I thought the title had some melancholic feel in it. 

This book is a collection of fourteen essays compiled by the author; with topics spanning from the investigation about the fate of American novels, the way a supermax prison works, US postal service and the author's recollections of his father’s long-time struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Most of these essays previously appeared in The New Yorker and Harper's Magazine, and other publications.

Well, I am not so much of a non-fiction reader. So I was surprised that I did quite enjoy this book. This book covered a lot of different materials and topics so I didn't feel too bogged down by facts throughout the book. You will read in My Father's Brain a poignant and haunting account of the author's personal experience. Franzen is a daring essayist too - his infamous Harper's essay (a revised version of Perchance to Dream) re-titled here as Why Bother? - was a controversial literary manifesto in which he wrote about the place of fiction and reading in modern society. But there was humor too - with the one about sex-advise books.

I got my answer about the title of in the introductory essay A Word About This Book which I thought was brilliant: Franzen explained that the underlying investigation in all these essays is the problem of preserving individuality and complexity in a noisy and distracting mass culture: the question of how to be alone. 

Stay tuned for Part 2.

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