An unfailingly elegant and thoughtful collection of essays from the formidable mind of Franzen, written with passion and...

FARTHER AWAY

ESSAYS

Further dispatches from one of contemporary literature’s most dependable talents.

Franzen (Freedom, 2010, etc.) returns with a nonfiction collection that includes book reviews, reportage and personal reflections on such topics as the social scourge of cell phones and the pleasures of bird-watching, but the collection as a whole is haunted by the author’s relationship with David Foster Wallace, a peer similarly lauded for erudition and seriousness of purpose who committed suicide in 2008. Wallace’s suicide provides the emotional ballast for the title essay, an account of Franzen’s sojourn to an impossibly remote island where he hoped to escape the demands of modern technology, see some exceedingly rare birds and scatter the ashes of his dead friend. The piece functions as travelogue, a reckoning with the novel Robinson Crusoe and a howl of despair at the suicide of a friend, and Franzen’s formidable intelligence and literary skill combine these strands into an unforgettably lyrical meditation on solitude and loss. Elsewhere, the author makes impassioned cases for such obscure novels as The Hundred Brothers and The Man Who Loved Children, recounts hair-raising adventures protecting endangered birds on Cyprus from poachers, wrestles with Chinese bureaucracy and the ethical implications of golf and, in a whimsical, digressive faux interview with the state of New York, manages a highly amusing impersonation of Wallace’s lighter work. Franzen can get a bit schoolmarmish and crotchety in his caviling against the horrors of modern society, and he perhaps overestimates the appeal of avian trivia to the general reader, but anyone with an interest in the continued relevance of literature and in engaging with the world in a considered way will find much here to savor.

An unfailingly elegant and thoughtful collection of essays from the formidable mind of Franzen, written with passion and haunted by loss.

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-374-15357-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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