He’s not the richest or the most famous. His characters don’t solve mysteries, have magical powers or live in the future…but he shows us the way we live now.
Lev Grossman wrote those words for the cover of the August 23, 2010 cover of Time magazine, calling Jonathan Franzen “the great American novelist.” In the midst of the great recession when most people were thinking about the economy, unemployment, and the sinking real estate market, America needed a hero and with the recent publication of Franzen’s fourth novel, Freedom, Time magazine found their guy but fell short of naming him “Man of the Year” for writing what most critics considered great literature. Read more
As individual voters, we can do very little to reform our broken political system, or to change the apocalyptic tenor of today’s political campaigns. But, as neighbors and friends, we can redeem politics through ordinary human decency. ~Joshua Rothman
The archive director (Joshua Rothman) of The New Yorker wrote an article for the November 7, 2016 issue entitled “The Enemy Next Door“ which is a must-read for anyone baffled or horrified by the political leanings of their neighbors, friends, and relatives. The article is actually a review of Nancy Rosenblum’s new book “Good Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America” but the insight is equally applicable to friends and family who find themselves on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Read more
People are fond of saying that the truth will make you free. But what happens when the truth is not one simple, brutal thing?
Personal memoirs about growing up with less than suitable parents, and particularly mothers – provide readers a glimpse into a world that managed to produce some of the most talented contemporary writers in this country while supporting the argument that nature wins over nurture but not without the long-lasting effects of childhood. Read more
Secrets were power. Money was power. Being needed was power. Power, power, power: how could the world be organized around the struggle for a thing so lonely and oppressive in the having of it?
In Jonathan Franzen’s newest novel Purity, the author introduces the reader to Purity (“Pip”) Tyler, a 23-year old recent college graduate with $130,000 in student loan debt living in a squatter’s house in Oakland, California. Distancing herself from the mother who raised her in the Santa Cruz mountains, trying to find her biological father, and employed in a dead-end job, Pip is all but disillusioned about the world and the impact she will make on it. When offered an internship to work for the Sunlight Project – an organization that prides itself on leaking government secrets – in Bolivia, Pip takes a leap of faith, quits her job, packs up, and moves to South America. Read more
But once in the world, she learned everyone’s lesson – families were not as they seemed, she grew artful in spotting the cracks in domestic facades. Wasn’t everyone damaged….
For many years, a book – The Widow’s Children – sat on a shelf in my bookcase untouched because I had read that the author – Paula Fox – tended toward the somber although many critics consider Fox one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Most of Fox’s works were published in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, so many of her books are out of print which means Fox is not as well-known as she was 30 years ago. Read more
I say what I mean. I am an old woman. I do not have the time any longer to say things I do not mean.
Elizabeth Costello is an elderly Australian writer who despite having written several novels is primarily known for a book she published decades ago about the wife of a principal character of another novel, Ulysses by James Joyce. Frustrated that her other works are often ignored, she chooses to speak on controversial issues, philosophers, and unrelated topics when asked to give a lecture, conduct a seminar, or interact with those in the literary world. Read more
Only writing kept me from being swept into the dust heap of third grade, and for this reason I not only loved writing, I felt a strong sense of loyalty to it. I may have been shaky about tying my shoes or telling time, but I was sure about my career, and I consider this certainty the greatest gift of my life.
My father was an idiot, I wanted nothing to do with him, and it cost me nothing to keep well away from him. It wasn’t a question of keeping away from something, it was a question of the something not existing; nothing about him touched me. That was how it had been, but then I had sat down to write, and the tears poured forth.
In Norway, revealing personal information and family secrets is considered shameful so when Karl Ove Knausgaard, the award-winning, best-selling author wrote a 6 volume autobiographical account of his life, the public took notice, read the critics’ reviews but ultimately decided to buy the books. Read more
I wonder if our current cultural susceptibility to the charms of materialism – our increasing willingness to see psychology as chemical, identity as genetic, and behavior as the product of bygone exigencies of human evolution – isn’t intimately related to the postmodern resurgence of the oral and the eclipse of the written: our incessant telephoning, our ephemeral e-mailing, our steadfast devotion to the flickering tube. Read more
Our Far Left may hate religion and think we coddle Israel, our Far Right may hate illegal immigrants and think we coddle black people, and nobody may know how the economy is supposed to work now that our manufacturing jobs have gone overseas, but the actual substance of our daily lives is total electronic distraction. We can’t face the real problems; we spent a trillion dollars not really solving a problem in Iraq that wasn’t really a problem; we can’t even agree on how to keep health care costs from devouring the GNP. What we can all agree to do instead is to deliver ourselves to the cool new media and technologies, to Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, and let them profit at our expense. Read more