Fine. Book. 8vo-over 7¾-9¾" tall. Synopsis: From Jonathan Franzen, the National Book Award winning author of The Corrections, here are fourteen provocative and entertaining answers to the question of how to be alone in a noisy and distracting mass culture. Although Franzen's subjects range from the sex-advice industry to the way a supermax prison works, each piece wrestles with essential themes of his writing: the erosion of civic life and private dignity, the dubious claims of technology and psychology, the tragic shape of the individual life. Recent pieces include a moving essay on his father's struggle with Alzheimer's disease and a rueful account of Franzen's brief tenure as an Oprah Winfrey author This is a book that will further cement Franzen's reputation as one of the sharpest, toughest, and liveliest writers at work today. Review: Jonathan Franzen is smart and brash, the kind of person you want as your social critic but not as a brother-in-law. Many of the 14 essays in How to Be Alone, by the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Corrections, first appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, and elsewhere. A long, much-discussed rumination on the American novel, (newly) titled "Why Bother? , " is included, as well as essays on privacy obsession, the U.S. post office, New York City, big tobacco, and new prisons. At his best, as in "My Father's Brain, " a piece on his father's struggle with Alzheimer's, Franzen can make the ordinary world utterly riveting. But at times, it can be difficult to discern where Franzen stands on any particular subject, as he often takes both sides of an argument. Valid attempts to reflect ambiguity sometimes lead to obfuscation, especially in his essays on privacy and tobacco, although his belief that small-town America of years gone by offered the individual little privacy certainly rings true. Franzen can write with panache, as in this comment after he watched, without headphones, a TV show during a flight: "(It) became an exposé of the hydraulics of insincere smiles." A few of the shorter pieces appear to be filler. Franzen shines brightest when he gets edgy and a little angry, as in "The Reader in Exile": "Instead of Manassas battlefield, a historical theme park. Instead of organizing narratives, a map of the world as complex as the world itself. Instead of a soul, membership in a crowd. Instead of wisdom, data."--Mark Frutkin.
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