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Lorrie Moore on Jonathan Franzen

Filed under: Jonathans are Illuminated   Tagged: ,

From “Bedside Reading,” a friendly little collection (with Amazon links!) of some New Yorker contributors’ literary discoveries, and one reject. The other book-recommenders are Sasha Frere-Jones, Malcolm Gladwell, Jill Lepore, Mary Ellen Mark, Paul Muldoon (glad the poet isn’t last), Nick Paumgarten, and David Sipress.
Despite the hoopla surrounding Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” I was unprepared for two aspects of it that no one had mentioned to me: how funny it was, and how feminist. (The ending, in which the widowed mother, shed of her marriage, is now ready to make a better life for herself at the age of seventy-five, is like a stiletto of ice slipping neatly into, and then between, the ribs.) On my bedside table now is Franzen’s “The Discomfort Zone,” a wondrous book of lively, intelligent, intimate—and funny—narrative essays, which has received in the Times two of the most bewildering reviews I’ve ever read. Franzen is never the hero of his own anecdotes, and he observes the world (and himself) the way the baby of a family often does: with a kind of ruthless, custodial affection. He is able to see how three different centuries have converged upon Americans and how disorienting that can be. Even the cover charms: on the jacket is a Victorian “Map of a Man’s Heart,” reprinted from McCall’s and looking like some jokey geography thought up by Lewis Carroll, with its “Broad Range of Interests,” its “Province of Deep Thought,” its “Memory of Mother Moat” and “Ravine of the Limited Take-Home.” There are few ways in, though the “Tunnel of Fetch and Carry” will get one across the memory of mom. It all makes me think that people do not have the wit and humor that they used to.
I like you more all the time, Lorrie Moore.


I’ve got Dalton Trumbo’s “Additional Dialogue: Letters of Dalton Trumbo 1942-1962” on my bedside table. Unfortunately it has contributed to me living in the Los Angeles time-zone, even though I live in NY. If I don’t do curb my bedtime reading extravagance, I’ll soon be living in the Japan time zone!

“Bedside Reading” is delightful. I’m definitely going to take my cue from Nick Paumgarten’s reading list and check out “Oracle Bones.” (I’m also a Peter Hessler fan, so I don’t need much arm-twisting.) I hope “Bedside Reading” becomes a regular feature of the magazine’s website. I’m curious to know the reading tastes of the entire staff.

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