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Farther Away: Essays Hardcover – April 24, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374153574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374153571
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #345,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Praise for Farther Away:

“[Franzen’s] new collection takes the reader on a closely guided tour of his private concerns . . . the miscorrelation between merit and fame, the breakdown of a marriage, birds, the waning relevance of the novel in popular culture . . . Franzen rewards the reader with extended meditations on common phenomena we might otherwise consider unremarkable . . . the observations [he] makes regarding subjects like cell phone etiquette, the ever-evolving face of modern love and technology are trenchant . . . With Farther Away, Mr. Franzen demonstrates his ability to dissect the kinds of quotidian concerns that so often evade scrutiny . . . It may be eight years before he releases his next shimmering novel; in the meantime Mr. Franzen seems intent on keeping the conversation going. Farther Away at least achieves that.” —Alex Fankuchen, The New York Observer

“Throughout the book, Franzen suggests that storytelling is a way to interpret and relieve our collective suffering—a vehicle for social connection—and that apathy can be challenged with Molotov cocktails of ‘bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are’ . . . Combining personal history with cultural events and the minutiae of daily life, Franzen evokes Joan Didion’s tone of rigorous self-examination, and [David Foster] Wallace’s wit and philosophical prowess. Whether he is writing about technologies’ assault on sincerity or analyzing Alice Munro’s short stories, what emerges are works of literary theory and cultural critique that are ambitious, brooding and charmingly funny . . . The essays in Farther Away are rigorous, artful devotions navigating morally complex topics. At the heart of this collection are the ways ‘engagement with something you love compels you to face up to who you really are.’ Collectively, they are a source of authenticity and refuge—a way out of loneliness.” —Kathryn Savage, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Together, the short pieces take a deep, often tangled look at the relationship between writing and self . . . [Franzen’s] persistent questioning rings genuine and honest . . . Part of the joy in reading these essays is in their variety: Franzen has thrown together a buffet of essays, speeches, lectures, bits of memoir and journalism, and a few oddballs, like an extended fictional interview with New York State and her entourage (publicist, attorney, historian, geologist) . . . Each finds a home in the collection because, in the end, each informs Franzen’s capabilities as a writer . . . The material all fits together as an eclectic mix of Franzen’s fiction-style prose—that plain language rendered rich by its novel construction and telling detail—and a candid, earnest investigation of what makes for great writing. It’s inspiring on two levels: the quality of the writing, and the content about the quality of writing . . . a collection of thought-provoking, potent essays that rouse a renewed desire to read good books in a culture that is, as Franzen says, marked by its ‘saturation in entertainment.’ The texts are both a testament to and an illustration of what attracts people to books—a delicate play between writer, text, character, and reader that prompts excellent questions and provides surprising answers.” —Emily Withrow, The A.V. Club

Farther Away is, from beginning to end, a celebration of love: what provokes it and what endangers it, what joys it brings and what terrors it produces . . . Farther Away takes its title from the New Yorker essay in which Franzen first discussed the suicide of his friend the novelist David Foster Wallace . . . art elegy, part literary criticism, part travelogue . . . “Farther Away” is one of the strangest, most powerful documents of mourning that I’ve ever read. Farther Away reveals a kinder Franzen, a writer who has no truck with sentimentality but is a clear-eyed defender of sentiment. At one point, Franzen lists the many things that he is against: ‘weak narrative, overly lyrical prose, solipsism, self-indulgence . . .’ The list goes on. But Farther Away is such a wonderful collection because of the things Franzen is for—the ennobling effects of love and imaginative experience, our need to escape from the isolated self and journey farther away, toward other places and other people. Like the best fiction, Farther Away charts a way out of loneliness.” —Anthony Domestico, Christian Science Monitor

“Franzen captivates readers whether ranting about such everyday concerns as bad cellphone manners or lamenting the diminishing relevance of the novel or examining the talented, troubled life and suicide of his close friend and literary brother, David Foster Wallace . . . At his best, Franzen exposes himself. He does so often and unapologetically, with understated humor, level-headed alienation and rare insight, typically at the nexus of self-analysis and self-indulgence.” —Don Oldenburg, USA Today

“[Franzen’s] essays are riddled with aphorisms (‘One half of a passion is obsession, the other half is love’) and, surprisingly, humour (theory and sex prove incompatible bedfellows when his wife-to-be declares: ‘You can’t deconstruct and undress at the same time’). A multifaceted and revealing collection, Farther Away actually brings the reader closer to the author.” —The Economist

“[Franzen is] after something more elusive: identity, we might call it, which he understands to be not fixed but fluid, a set of reactions or impressions in evolution, a constant variation on the self. ‘[W]hat this means, in practice,’ he notes in the text of a lecture called ‘On Autobiographical Fiction,’ ‘is that you have to become a different person to write the next book. The person you already are already wrote the best book you could. There’s no way to move forward without changing yourself. Without, in other words, working on the story of your own life. Which is to say: your autobiography.’

This is an essential point, the heart of everything, made all the more so because Franzen’s fiction is not autobiographical in any overt way. And yet, what else could it be when literature is, must be, the result of ‘a personal struggle, a direct and total engagement with the author's story of his or her own life’? Such an intention runs throughout these essays, whether critical (takes on Paula Fox, Christina Snead, Donald Antrim, Dostoevsky) or experiential (an account of bird preservation efforts in the Mediterranean, a tirade about the effect of cellphones on urban life) . . . On the surface, these pieces have nothing to do with each other, yet what is either one about if not authenticity? Again and again, that's the question Franzen raises in this collection . . . What Franzen is getting at is the concept of being ‘islanded,’ the notion that—no matter what—we are on our own, all the time . . . In that sense, all of it—from the kid in that car to the teenager wandering New York to the birder on Robinson Crusoe's island—is of a piece with David Foster Wallace and even Neil Armstrong: isolated dots of consciousness in a capricious universe, trying to find a point of real connection before time runs out.” —David Ulin, Los Angeles Times

“This book of essays by Jonathan Franzen covers various subjects but the unifying theme is truthfulness. He stands for lucidity of expression, which is not the same thing as ease. The lesson of Franzen is that honesty and excellence come from blood, sweat and tears . . . This is Franzen at his finest . . . Narcissism must never be confused with love. This is Franzen’s distilled wisdom . . . He is unflinching about the price of empathy . . . This is a book for those interested in how to live as well as how to write.” —Sarah Sands, London Evening Standard

Farther Away, Jonathan Franzen’s recent collection of essays, proves to be a deeply personal portrait of a contemporary writer at work . . . Many of Farther Away’s features explore creativity and craftsmanship: their tensions and intersections and how those forces can be used together to create a beautiful object . . . The book, while full of intellect, is also full of puns, anecdotes, and self-effacing jokes about being a cranky, old-fashioned Luddite. In other words, Jonathan Franzen knows what some people think about him, and he couldn’t care less, an attitude in keeping with his public personality. Because, despite the fiery exchanges that can erupt around him, Franzen usually appears untouched by the conflagration, reacting with detached humor or insightful observation . . . The most personal moments in Farther Away come in the essays about Franzen’s passions . . . These essays have sentiment but also clear-eyed pragmatism. Franzen relates the situations he encounters with the objective eye of a scientist, even though you can clearly feel his emotion just under the surface . . . With Farther Away, Jonathan Franzen has proved once again why his intelligence, empathy, and humor have earned him widespread acclaim—and also why, whether you love him or hate him, we need his voice as a catalyst for literary conversations in the 21st century.” —Ben Pfeiffer, The Rumpus

“Ultimately, Farther Away is a meditation on the obscure other half of a world right in front of our faces—the private horror of a public figure struggling with depression, the unspoken loneliness of an individual living in a world of people perpetually turned off because their devices are turned on, the perils of a bird i...

About the Author

Jonathan Franzen is the author of four novels (FreedomThe CorrectionsStrong Motion, and The Twenty-Seventh City), a collection of essays (How to Be Alone), a personal history (The Discomfort Zone), and a translation of Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening, all published by FSG. He lives in New York City and Santa Cruz, California.

More About the Author

Jonathan Franzen is the author of three novels--The Corrections, The Twenty-Seventh City, and Strong Motion--and two works of nonfiction, How to Be Alone and The Discomfort Zone, all published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He lives in New York City and Santa Cruz, California.

Customer Reviews

Unfortunately, Farther Away is not any of these things.
mathicus el chivas
The tone in most of these pieces is so generically, so cleanly misanthropic that it almost makes misanthropy itself boring.
If you're an avid reader or English teacher/professor, you need to read this.
Chris Stratton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A fellow with a keyboard on September 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Reviewer jafrank said, "The tone in most of these pieces is so generically, so cleanly misanthropic that it almost makes misanthropy itself boring. ... it all feels like someone checking things off of an old list of grievances." He also used the word "milquetoast"--I had to look it up, it means "a timid man or boy considered childish or unassertive."

Either jafrank is making shoddy inferences or I am, because I sensed that Franzen was doing exactly the opposite: What jafrank calls a timid display of misanthropic grievances was, from my seat, a bold and compassionate criticism of "porn-soaked modernity," an urgent attempt to have us acknowledge our self-stimulation, our individualism, our faulty understanding of "love," our emptiness.

The book is essentially the work of a social critic, and strange as it may sound to many people who tend to think of critics as being motivated by the lower emotions - envy, disdain, contempt even - critics are, above all, people who are in love with beautiful things, and who worry that those things will get broken.

Let's please not dismiss this book as timid misanthropy, because we urgently need more critics. More Franzens.


If you aren't sure whether you'll want to read this book, check out first the chapters "Pain Won't Kill You" and "David Foster Wallace." Those are, I think, the most compelling chapters.


If you adored this book, then you might want to check out the works of other highly perceptive social critics: William Deresiewicz, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, and (of course) David Foster Wallace. And please let me know if you have other recommendations. Good social criticism is hard to find.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By mathicus el chivas on September 13, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Given the outstanding quality of Franzen's fiction, I had high expectations for Farther Away. I had hoped to encounter the warm and generally insightful friendship of Montaigne, or the witty and self-deprecating journalism of Franzen's late literary compatriot, David Foster Wallace. Unfortunately, Farther Away is not any of these things. Of course, the writing is excellent, and his analysis is clear and thoughtful. But the collection lacks coherence, and, at times, feels uninspired (I'm inclined to use the`t' word, but shall here refrain from doing so). It seems that the sole reason Mr.Franzen published this grab bag of book reviews, quasi-memoirs, and miniature essays apparently intended to be humorous, was to make some money, else to keep his name afloat on the internet-o-sphere until 2020, when he will have finished his next novel.

Admittedly, the titular essay is excellent. An introspective account of Franzen's attempt to flee civilization by escaping to a tiny island, it echoes Rousseau's Confessions in that it is partly the product of a man's misgivings about a society undergoing constant technological and social change. While Rousseau warned his audience about the negative social consequences of the progress of the arts and sciences, Franzen warns us about the dangers of smart phones and Facebook. The book reviews, and a few particularly insipid essays, however, are not so great. The long, boring passages on the minutia of bird-watching were difficult to get through, as was the `interview' with New York State, which, whatever his intentions, was definitely not funny.

The book is worth reading, but disappointing. Next time I'm going to be a bit more circumspect when it comes to purchasing non-fiction works written by a master of fiction, regardless of who his friends are.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Robert Taylor Brewer on April 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Between novels, it was customary for fiction writers to turn out a book of short stories "to keep readers interested". Jonathan Frazen turns this tradition on its ear with Farther Away, a penetrating and often hysterical new book of essays that in spots, combines the overarching tone of Emerson with the inventive intricacy of Evelyn Waugh.

For pure fun, try "Hornets" to see what Frazen does with a borrowed house, airborne insects "with bodies the size of double A batteries" and gasoline. His opening commentary to the graduating class at Kenyon College is more somber without being solipcistic, and if his essay on Christine Stead's masterpiece The Man Who Loved Children doesn't help that novel find an audience, nothing will. He complains persuasively that The Man Who Loved Children has only 14 Amazon reviews but the feeling is that after his new essay, it may acquire many more.

Guaranteed to put you in a New York state of mind is the essay "Interview With New York State". It's called The Empire State for a reason and Frazen is not bashful supplying it. In "Our Little Planet" Frazen does for Iowa what Flannery O'Connor did for Georgia: brief mixtures of movement and environment blended in waves of crackling prose. Frazen is too modest to disclose publicly his golf handicap, but "The Chinese Puffin" captures his iconoclastic thoughts on the sport, as well as his desperation over his swing - and where else but in the mind of a great novelist could you expect to find the observation that "golf" spelled backwards is "flog"?

All in all, this book is chock full of trenchant observations on contemporary life that Frazen readers will appreciate, and it may also win over many who stayed on the literary sidelines.
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