1. The reviews for Freedom, Jonathan Franzen’s much-anticipated follow-up to 2001’s The Corrections, are in, and terms like “America’s Greatest Novelist” are once again being thrown around, with the decline of the novel itself being re-evaluated as well. Personally, I love Franzen’s work, especially his essays (he’s got a great one about his involvement in youth ministry growing up) and will be first in line on the 31st. Time Magazine has gone so far as to put him on their cover, the first time they’ve done so with a living novelist in ten years. Their profile is only moderately interesting, my favorite bit being Franzen’s take on busyness and books:
There are any number of reasons to want novels to survive. The way [Jonathan] Franzen thinks about it is that books can do things, socially useful things, that other media can’t. He cites — as one does — the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and his idea of busyness: that state of constant distraction that allows people to avoid difficult realities and maintain self-deceptions. With the help of cell phones, e-mail and handheld games, it’s easier to stay busy, in the Kierkegaardian sense, than it’s ever been.
Reading, in its quietness and sustained concentration, is the opposite of busyness. “We are so distracted by and engulfed by the technologies we’ve created, and by the constant barrage of so-called information that comes our way, that more than ever to immerse yourself in an involving book seems socially useful,” Franzen says. “The place of stillness that you have to go to to write, but also to read seriously, is the point where you can actually make responsible decisions, where you can actually engage productively with an otherwise scary and unmanageable world.”
The NY Times Book Review calls it a “masterpiece of American fiction” and describes one of the themes of the book, saying:
As each of us seeks to assert his “personal liberties” — a phrase Franzen uses with full command of its ideological implications — we helplessly collide with others in equal pursuit of their sacred freedoms, which, more often than not, seem to threaten our own. It is no surprise, then, that “the personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage,” as Franzen remarks. And the dream will always sour; for it is seldom enough simply to follow one’s creed; others must embrace it too. They alone can validate it.
3. The latest innovation in the world of New Atheism is pretty clever: A hairdryer, for de-baptizing. Points for creativity! On a less amusing note, Leisl Schillinger’s article in the NY Times “Christopher Hitchens, Not Going Gently,” clearly meant to strike a note of quiet admiration for a man “sticking to his guns,” instead comes across as surprisingly naive, and even a bit silly. That is, it doesn’t stick to its own annihilationist guns, which the man himself did in his recent interview with The Atlantic. It made me particularly sad to read a quote from the great Martin Amis about immortality being something that can be achieved through art. As if…
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