There are certainly books out there that I don’t finish. With so many available, why waste time reading those which are not up to personal standard?
Try as I might, I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it through Ford Maddox Ford’s Parade’s End or Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, but at the end of the day, I’m better off for having started them.
Regardless, when I started this blog, I kind of promised myself I wouldn’t review books I didn’t finish, but this one somehow screams indifference.
Franzen’s 2011 collection of essays Farther Away boasts of everything that Franzen is known for. He’s an intellect that is at once painfully difficult to associate with based on his own predilections toward solitude. His essays profess a sort of social-intellectual superiority that I’ve come to find semi-repulsive if not at times nauseating.
In 22 pieces ranging in subject matter from his absolutely stunning 2011 Kenyon college commencement address to book reviews of lesser known “greats”, his relationship with David Foster Wallace, and even Chinese Conservationism in the midst of economic-boom–Franzen demonstrates that he’s a mind at war with his own cultural relevance as much as he is with the diminishing global song-bird population (a subject he covers at great lengths).
Personally, I love Franzen. Twenty-Seventh City was outstanding, The Corrections was a joy, and Freedom might be the best American novel to have been written in the last decade–but this collection–how? Why?
There are pieces that recall Franzen’s brilliance and linguistic savvy, but taken together, the pieces date themselves to the point of forced obsolescence. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t understand who would want to read a forty-page essay covering the Chinese ecological downturn of the early 21st century, or a review of the archaic Swedish literature piece The Laughing Policeman.
To each his own. Obviously. Clearly, there is/was a need for these to be written when he wrote them, but at this point in time, I’m not sure about the relevance of any of it.
The best pieces (granted, I’ll chalk this one up to my love affair with DFW) cover the suicide of one of his best friends and contemporary American novelist/essayist David Foster Wallace–which he does write about with passion and zeal.
Otherwise, I recommend you stay far away from Farther Away (couldn’t help myself). It’s not for you. Really, I’m not sure who it would be for?
Leave this one at the bookstore and pick up one of his other collections instead. How to Be Alone is a beautiful compilation of personal memoir, and The Discomfort Zone deals with the heartache associated with losing a family member to Alzheimer’s. Both are fantastic if you’re interested in his non-fiction.
Stars = 2/5