Farther Away Essays

Jonathan Franzen




Trade Paperback

336 Pages


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In Farther Away, which gathers together essays and speeches written mostly in the past five years, Franzen returns with renewed vigor to the themes, both human and literary, that have long preoccupied him. Whether recounting his violent encounter with bird poachers in Cyprus, examining his mixed feelings about the suicide of his friend and rival David Foster Wallace, or offering a moving and witty take on the ways that technology has changed how people express their love, these pieces deliver on Franzen's implicit promise to conceal nothing. On a trip to China to see first-hand the environmental devastation there, he doesn't omit mention of his excitement and awe at the pace of China's economic development; the trip becomes a journey out of his own prejudice and moral condemnation. Taken together, these essays trace the progress of unique and mature mind wrestling with itself, with literature, and with some of the most important issues of our day. Farther Away is remarkable, provocative, and necessary.


Praise for Farther Away

"Franzen conveys his psychological acuity in a fugue of erudition, pathos and irony that is simply fantastic."—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"[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 . . . 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

"A multifaceted and revealing collection, Farther Away actually brings the reader closer to the author."—The Economist

"Franzen's position in literary debates is by now well staked—engrossing plots and characters are king—and here he maintains his ground with characteristic intelligence and earnestness . . . But what distinguishes Franzen's treatment of these matters in Farther Away is the frequency with which he appeals to love . . . Love now suffuses Franzen's writing as it hasn't before, in a manner intertwined with his newly tragicomic outlook. As the world outside of Franzen's window grows grimmer—as America's politics become more dysfunctional, digitization more irrevocable, humanity's adverse effects on the planet more profound—his writing has increasingly located salvation in turning to the worthiest thing you can find and loving the hell out of it . . . Farther Away is a reminder not only of Franzen's greatness as a sentence-by-sentence writer, but also of how much he cares about literature."—James Santel, The Los Angeles Review of Books

"[Franzen's] writing has an unshowy, almost egoless perfection."—Lev Grossman, Time

"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'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

"In that opening address to Kenyon graduates, Franzen said: ‘What love is really about is a bottomless empathy, born out of the heart's revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are.' At their very best, his essays live up to this definition, crossing divides of form, time and space to speak as wisely and warmly as a close, clever and eminently real friend."—James Kidd, The Independent

"Franzen has both the accomplished miniaturist's eye for telling everyday detail and a sophisticated understanding of the contemporary big picture."—Rose Tremain, The Guardian

"There are about twenty great American novelists in the generations that follow me. The greatest is Jonathan Franzen."—Philip Roth

"Further dispatches from one of contemporary literature's most dependable talents . . . 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."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Franzen . . . follows up Freedom with a collection of recent essays, speeches, and reviews, in which he lays out a view of literature in which storytelling and character development trump lyrical acrobatics, and unearths a few forgotten classics . . . in his native realm—books that revel in the frustrations, despairs, and near-blisses of human relationships—he is an undeniably perceptive reader . . . This intimate read is packed with provocative questions about technology, love, and the state of the contemporary novel."—Publisher's Weekly



Read an Excerpt


[commencement address, Kenyon College, May 2011]

Good morning, Class of 2011. Good morning, relatives and faculty. It's a great honor and pleasure to be here today.
I'm going to go ahead and assume...

Read the full excerpt


  • Jonathan Franzen

  • Jonathan Franzen is the author of four novels, a collection of essays (How to Be Alone), a personal history (The Discomfort Zone), and a translation of Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening. He lives in New York City and Santa Cruz, California.

  • Jonathan Franzen Shelby Graham
    Jonathan Franzen