Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

FreedomFreedom by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm sure there are zillions of things wrong with Franzen and this book, but I don't care if it's trying to be the great American novel or not. I enjoyed it thoroughly and recommend it highly. However, if you hate Franzen, why torture yourself? Just acknowledge that you hate the book and don't bother reading it.

I'd hate to be the guy people put so much heat on. I think he's just a writer who tries to express himself. But he doesn't need my approval to keep writing. At least I hope he doesn't!

I liked Freedom because I cared about the characters. They were all flawed, but he spent enough time to make us care about them as we'd care about anyone we knew that much about. I think that's what Franzen does best, and it's a skill I don't think you can pick up. Either you care enough to deeply observe and report what you think makes people tick--or you don't. If more writers could follow his lead, I'd be a happier reader.

There are plenty of reviews detailing the plot of the book, but I'll give it a quick summary. The main characters are Walter and Patty Berglund, who meet in Minnesota during college. Their friends and family and co-workers get drawn into the book as time passes, and by the end almost 30 years have zipped by.

I thought the book was pretty light hearted in some ways, even though a lot of bad things happen. But the characters have some inner gumption that keeps them going for the most part. Maybe that's why people tag it as the great American novel. We have a tendency to keep striving and trying to better ourselves and the world. At least we used to, but that's a topic for another day.

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The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

The ImperfectionistsThe Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

i would probably have liked the book better if I hadn't chosen it because of its humor. If you're looking for a story of self-sabotaging workaholics who, for the most part, can only be trusted to put out a good paper, this is your book.

I think the point of the book is that we tend to work hard at our jobs to the exclusion of personal satisfaction. We do this just either because we're stuck in a rut or we think we can use the job as a stepping stone for our ambition. But no matter how hard we work, or how many things we give up, our work matters little over the long run. We're on earth for just a moment or two and we and everything we stand for will soon be forgotten.

Now, that's probably true, but I wanted to have a bit of humor along with the pathos, and I sure didn't find it. The characters were, for the most part, losers or louses. There was only one guy who seemed to have it together out of the whole bunch. I don't generally mind having a bunch of misfits in a book, but these people were kind of pathetic. I know a bit of depth about them, but I can't say I cared about most of them. They're just too flawed.

I also chose the book because of it's setting. I'm going to Rome in a couple of days and wanted to put myself in the proper frame of mind. But it could have been set in St. Louis. Both cities are placed on a river and that's about all I know about Rome from this book.

The writer worked at newspapers and he must have hated the experience. I didn't detect one shred of love for the process or the art of reporting or writing.

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