I was reading the great article about Jonathan Franzen in Time magazine, written by none other than Lev Grossman, and while Franzen is a fascinating writer* and I look forward to not only reading Freedom, but his other books as well, there was one thing mentioned briefly that really made me stop and think. Actually, that’s not true, there were two things that really made me think, but for purposes of this post, I want to talk about just one of them.
The way Franzen thinks about it (wanting novels to survive) 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-deception….
Reading, in its quietness and sustained concentration, is the opposite of busyness. “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.”
I don’t want to get too earnest here, but isn’t that what reading is about? I read to understand people and human nature and, ultimately, myself. In The Unnamed, I learned that sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you love someone, sometimes you can only go so far. Books let you see people without the facade that they want you to see. In The Sixteen Pleasures, my thoughts about trying to make your life become what you thought it should be was given words and an illustration. In Time of my Life, I thought a lot about marriage and how it changes and how roads not taken can seem so much greener than the road you took.
That’s my ode to reading today.
*Actually, while reading the article, I was thinking it probably would have been more interesting if Grossman had interviewed Franzen’s, uh, not-quite-evil twin, @EmperorFranzen. I definitely think Franzen would be cooler with a cloak.