Friday, July 6, 2012
This book contains over two dozen essays dating back to 1998. "Comma-Then" is Franzen's rant against the use of a comma followed by a "then": whoever really uses that in everyday language? Several essays critique literary works of fiction including Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening, and other essays focus on Franzen's love of birds.
The first essay, "Pain Won't Kill You," had me hooked. It was Franzen's commencement address to Kenyon College last May, and it struck home for me having come almost a decade since my own college graduation. Becoming an adult is hard, and having to learn to make adult choices is even harder. But we have to do it, and sometimes we have to hurt. The lesson in this essay is that pain is necessary to grow and it won't kill you--without it, you learn less and feel less.
The essay that packed the most punch in this book was Franzen's memorial service remarks for David Foster Wallace, titled with his friend's name. I found Franzen's remarks to be incredibly moving and heartfelt; it's difficult to not feel the love he has for his friend. He doesn't mince words; he never avoids saying that Wallace took his own life or denying the truth of choices. Franzen writes these words with such pathos and care that my heart broke although I never met Wallace in person.
This book of essays is definitely worth picking up. It's raw and honest, and I loved his literary criticisms. In fact, I might have picked up a few of those books as well!