I’m not a big fan of Jonathan Franzen, but it’s nice to see a good writer make the cover of the Aug. 23 issue of Time in our post-literate age. His latest novel Freedom is out this month, nine years after The Corrections.
The Time piece is a nice profile of the writer and a preview of the book. Here’s a passage I liked on the significance of the novel, on reading in general in a multi-media saturated culture driven to constant distraction:
There are any number of reasons to want novels to survive. The way Franzen thinks about it is that books can do things, socially useful things, that other media can’t. He cites . . . the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and his idea of busyness: that state of constant distraction that allows people to avoid difficult realities and maintain self-deceptions. With the help of cell phones, e-mail and handheld games, it’s easier to stay busy, in the Kierkegaardian sense, than it’s ever been.
Reading, in its quietness and sustained concentration, is the opposite of busyness. ‘We are so distracted by and engulfed by the technologies we’ve created, and by the constant barrage of so-called information that comes our way, that more than ever to immerse yourself in an involving book seems socially useful,’ Franzen says. ‘The place of stillness that you have to go to to write, but also 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.’