jonathan franzen on how novels save us from loneliness

the words of others

Writing is at base a story of solitude. By necessity and inclination, writers are loners. My last blog looked at the American writer David Foster Wallace, and his thoughts on how modern culture is scared of silence.

Wallace was thinking about how it is hard to get people to read today because there’s so little tolerance for being alone and silent. Two important prerequisites for reading.

It seems like the condition of solitude was a real preoccupation of Wallace. His friend and fellow writer Jonathan Franzen said the two of them talked at length about loneliness and about “the unique capacity of the written word, particularly narrative, to connect a solarity writer with a solitary reader.”

Both men felt this was as an important role of writing. “When I pick up a Jane Austen novel,” says Franzen. “She’s angry at the same bad behavior that makes me angry.” And there’s solace in that. You don’t feel so alone.

Here’s a short interview with Franzen discussing these ideas, and the changes in our world, particularly technological, which have made such solitude harder and harder to come by.


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