How to Be Alone
Jonathan Franzen
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Buy *How to Be Alone: Essays* online

How to Be Alone: Essays
Jonathan Franzen
Picador USA
288 pages
October 2003
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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How to be Alone is an interesting choice for a title because readers will feel at once comfortable and welcomed as if by an old friend with whom they have much in common.

Franzen deals with the universal concerns of civil liberties and our culture that cultivates aloneness while at the same time fretting itself to neurotic frenzy over whether we are alone too much. He has an enigmatic way of taking a commonly held belief (i.e. our ever-shrinking privacy and the time-immemorial complaint of the snail-like mail delivery system) and giving life to the perfectly sound points we all empathize with when we see them in print but wish we could have articulated first.

He does an excellent job of intertwining current cultural norms he eschews himself. For instance, the author does not own a CD player (he does, however, have tapes made from friends' CDs). Each story gracefully encapsulates the Franzen's opinions. Whether the reader agrees with all of his observations or merely stops to think about them in order to disagree, he accomplishes the ultimate task of any writer: to make the readers think. In this day and age, that is a major achievement.

Franzen relates the story of a letter from a disgruntled reader who took him to task for his use of “big” words. In fact, his language is clear and concise and the pacing of his stories easy to follow. He never writes above the head of his reader, providing that his reader actually has at least a moderately varied vocabulary.

Jonathan Franzen’s book infuses new life into the art of writing. With a powerful command of language and an ability to blast through the usual bovine scatology, How to be Alone is a joy to read.

© 2004 by Camden Alexander for Curled Up With a Good Book

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