Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Franzen on the Cover of Time?

It was nice to see a literary novelist on the cover of Time Magazine this week (and interesting to discover that Oprah Winfrey has some kind of grudge against him).

Jonathan Franzen's new book, Freedom, sounds pretty interesting, and in the Time article (in the actual magazine, not the chopped-up link salad they give you on the website) he speaks to his overarching theme: having freedom is about what we choose give up to live the lives we choose, rather than having the right to do whatever it is that strikes our fancy in any given moment.  Hurrah! to that, I say, and also to his other point: if we're going to define our country as a place that "loves freedom", in conflict with terrorists who "hate freedom", we should really devote some serious thought to just what freedom is.

And we haven't yet, because we're a nation of overindulged, spoiled-rotten eight-year-olds.  (That last sentence was all me, not Franzen.)

From a retro-tech perspective, I got a kick out of the photograph (again, only in the print magazine) of Franzen's workspace.  He rents an office space, which he keeps completely bare, and writes with an outdated laptop computer on a plain desk.  There is absolutely nothing on the desk except for this computer.  He's yanked the wireless card out of the computer to make it internet and distraction free.  Even without the wireless card, though, there was an open ethernet port to tempt him.  So to fix that, he took an old cable, put super-glue on the jack, popped it in, and then cut the cord off of it.  Hole plugged; distractions averted.

I admire that level of dedication.  Personally, I would have brought one of my typewriters to the office.  (But just one, so I wouldn't waste time deciding which to use on a given day.)  There really is no better single purpose machine for writing.  Then again, typewriters necessitate a supply of paper, ribbons, pencils, etc.  Then the accumulations of manuscript pages and handwritten notes have a way of cluttering up the workspace.  So the self-contained laptop feels a lot more tidy.

No matter that it took him eight years to do it; Franzen did manage to get to the end of a lengthy novel, so clearly he's found a level of technology that works for him.  It takes dedication and focus to write, or read, anything long-form these days, and I'm looking forward to reading this once it comes out -- regardless of what Oprah says (or doesn't say) about it.

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