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Books  >>  Biography

Jonathan Franzen

Farther Away

Jonathan Franzen Farther Away
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Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was the runaway most-discussed novel of 2010, an ambitious and searching engagement with life in America in the twenty-first century. In The New York Times Book Review, Sam Tanenhaus proclaimed it “a masterpiece of American fiction” and lauded its illumination, “through the steady radiance of its author’s profound moral intelligence, [of] the world we thought we knew.”

In Farther Away, which gathers together essays and speeches written mostly in the past five years, Franzen returns with renewed vigor to the themes, both human and literary, that have long preoccupied him. Whether recounting his violent encounter with bird poachers in Cyprus, examining his mixed feelings about the suicide of his friend and rival David Foster Wallace, or offering a moving and witty take on the ways that technology has changed how people express their love, these pieces deliver on Franzen’s implicit promise to conceal nothing. On a trip to China to see first-hand the environmental devastation there, he doesn’t omit mention of his excitement and awe at the pace of China’s economic development; the trip becomes a journey out of his own prejudice and moral condemnation. Taken together, these essays trace the progress of unique and mature mind wrestling with itself, with literature, and with some of the most important issues of our day. Farther Away is remarkable, provocative, and necessary.

Praise for Farther Away:

“[Franzen’s] new collection takes the reader on a closely guided tour of his private concerns . . . the miscorrelation between merit and fame, the breakdown of a marriage, birds, the waning relevance of the novel in popular culture . . . Franzen rewards the reader with extended meditations on common phenomena we might otherwise consider unremarkable . . . the observations [he] makes regarding subjects like cell phone etiquette, the ever-evolving face of modern love and technology are trenchant . . . With Farther Away, Mr. Franzen demonstrates his ability to dissect the kinds of quotidian concerns that so often evade scrutiny . . . It may be eight years before he releases his next shimmering novel; in the meantime Mr. Franzen seems intent on keeping the conversation going. Farther Away at least achieves that.” —Alex Fankuchen, The New York Observer

“Throughout the book, Franzen suggests that storytelling is a way to interpret and relieve our collective suffering—a vehicle for social connection—and that apathy can be challenged with Molotov cocktails of ‘bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are’ . . . Combining personal history with cultural events and the minutiae of daily life, Franzen evokes Joan Didion’s tone of rigorous self-examination, and [David Foster] Wallace’s wit and philosophical prowess. Whether he is writing about technologies’ assault on sincerity or analyzing Alice Munro’s short stories, what emerges are works of literary theory and cultural critique that are ambitious, brooding and charmingly funny . . . The essays in Farther Away are rigorous, artful devotions navigating morally complex topics. At the heart of this collection are the ways ‘engagement with something you love compels you to face up to who you really are.’ Collectively, they are a source of authenticity and refuge—a way out of loneliness.” —Kathryn Savage, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Together, the short pieces take a deep, often tangled look at the relationship between writing and self . . . [Franzen’s] persistent questioning rings genuine and honest . . . Part of the joy in reading these essays is in their variety: Franzen has thrown together a buffet of essays, speeches, lectures, bits of memoir and journalism, and a few oddballs, like an extended fictional interview with New York State and her entourage (publicist, attorney, historian, geologist) . . . Each finds a home in the collection because, in the end, each informs Franzen’s capabilities as a writer . . . The material all fits together as an eclectic mix of Franzen’s fiction-style prose—that plain language rendered rich by its novel construction and telling detail—and a candid, earnest investigation of what makes for great writing. It’s inspiring on two levels: the quality of the writing, and the content about the quality of writing . . . a collection of thought-provoking, potent essays that rouse a renewed desire to read good books in a culture that is, as Franzen says, marked by its ‘saturation in entertainment.’ The texts are both a testament to and an illustration of what attracts people to books—a delicate play between writer, text, character, and reader that prompts excellent questions and provides surprising answers.” —Emily Withrow, The A.V. Club

Farther Away is, from beginning to end, a celebration of love: what provokes it and what endangers it, what joys it brings and what terrors it produces . . . Farther Away takes its title from the New Yorker essay in which Franzen first discussed the suicide of his friend the novelist David Foster Wallace . . . art elegy, part literary criticism, part travelogue . . . “Farther Away” is one of the strangest, most powerful documents of mourning that I’ve ever read. Farther Away reveals a kinder Franzen, a writer who has no truck with sentimentality but is a clear-eyed defender of sentiment. At one point, Franzen lists the many things that he is against: ‘weak narrative, overly lyrical prose, solipsism, self-indulgence . . .’ The list goes on. But Farther Away is such a wonderful collection because of the things Franzen is for—the ennobling effects of love and imaginative experience, our need to escape from the isolated self and journey farther away, toward other places and other people. Like the best fiction, Farther Away charts a way out of loneliness.” —Anthony Domestico, Christian Science Monitor

“Franzen captivates readers whether ranting about such everyday concerns as bad cellphone manners or lamenting the diminishing relevance of the novel or examining the talented, troubled life and suicide of his close friend and literary brother, David Foster Wallace . . . At his best, Franzen exposes himself. He does so often and unapologetically, with understated humor, level-headed alienation and rare insight, typically at the nexus of self-analysis and self-indulgence.” —Don Oldenburg, USA Today

“[Franzen’s] essays are riddled with aphorisms (‘One half of a passion is obsession, the other half is love’) and, surprisingly, humour (theory and sex prove incompatible bedfellows when his wife-to-be declares: ‘You can’t deconstruct and undress at the same time’). A multifaceted and revealing collection, Farther Away actually brings the reader closer to the author.” —The Economist

“[Franzen is] after something more elusive: identity, we might call it, which he understands to be not fixed but fluid, a set of reactions or impressions in evolution, a constant variation on the self. ‘[W]hat this means, in practice,’ he notes in the text of a lecture called ‘On Autobiographical Fiction,’ ‘is that you have to become a different person to write the next book. The person you already are already wrote the best book you could. There’s no way to move forward without changing yourself. Without, in other words, working on the story of your own life. Which is to


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