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How to Be Alone

It’s been a long time since I’ve developed a crush on anyone by reading their writing. The last time may have been when I met my current boyfriend. The first thing I can remember thinking about him was “Man, that guy can write” I got that same feeling reading this collection of essays although, apologies to Franzen, my attraction for him will have to remain unrequited. Many of these essays are taken from published magazine sources, so if you frequent Harpers or The New Yorker, you may have read one or two. In the introduction, Franzen takes the extra step of explaining how some of his ideas have changed since he wrote these essays, and he is given the luxury of being able to edit them to reflect how he feels now.

He covers a wide range of topics, from his father’s death from Alzheimers, to his rise to super-stardom as "that guy dropped form Oprah’s book club", to his weird attachment to smoking [and the weird smoking industry] and the odd banality of sex manuals. He’s so earnest, and so conflicted and yet not whiny or otherwise morose for someone this earnest and conflicted. He discusses successes and failures as things that happen, almost as if they happen to other people, and then shares some little emotional impression of it that makes you realize he was right there feeling this all along. His language is beautiful - big words, long sentences, elegant turns of phrase -- but they don’t detract from the various things he has to say, just help to drive the point home. Franzen seems to long for the days when writing was important and writers made a difference. This book, I think, is going to help keep those days in the present.