Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen

I have not read the novels of Jonathan Franzen and probably won't, but I have tried his essays. I enjoyed the mostly autobiographical collection The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History a couple of years ago. Now I have just listened to Farther Away as a downloadable audiobook. Franzen sets the tone by reading the first two essays "Pain Won't Kill You" and "Farther Away," and actor Scott Shepherd continues with nineteen more. All have a certain storytelling hook that will appeal to listeners of National Public Radio. Franzen discusses his writing, recounts life with family and friends, reports on birding issues, and profiles his favorite authors.

The name that comes up continually throughout is the novelist David Foster Wallace. Franzen says in an essay about his always-fragile friend that Wallace was trying to mature and wean himself off antidepresants before the final depression that led to his suicide. Readers will sense Franzen's feelings of loss and resolve to honor his colleauge.

I especially appreciate Franzen's reporting on the welfare of birds. He has traveled around the world to see endangered species and meet with both people who poach and protect the birds. He tries to be understanding of all viewpoints but regrets being so polite to hosts as to eat songbirds in Cyprus.

Several essays at the end of the book profile novelists and their books. I found myself placing requests for even more books. Thanks, Mr. Franzen.

Franzen, Jonathan. Farther Away. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. 321p. ISBN 9780374153571.

Macmillan Audio, 2012. 7 discs (8.5 hrs). ISBN 9781427221483.

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