Hey, read this thing I read! And watch this thing I watched!

I was reading “The Onion” yesterday during my commute. And I got so engrossed in an interview with Jonathan Franzen. I’ve never read any of his books, but this dude has shit figured out, so much so that I’ll have to seek out his work. I really like what he has to say about reading and writing and communicating electronically.

I couldn’t trim this down, it just all speaks to the core of my being:

I think novelists nowadays have a responsibility—whether or not my contemporaries are actually living up to it—to make books really, really compelling. To make you want to turn off your phone and walk away from your Internet connection and go spend some time in another place. I’m trying to fashion something that will actually pull you away, so I’m certainly conscious of the tension between the solitary world of reading and writing, and the noisy crowded world of electronic communications.

I continue to believe it’s a phony palliative, most of the noise. You have the sense of “Oh yeah, I’m writing in my angry response to your post, and now I’m flaming back the person who flamed me back for my angry response.” All of that stuff, you have the sense, “Yeah, I’m really engaged in something. I’m not alone. I’m not alone. I’m not alone.” And yet, I don’t think—maybe it’s just me—but when I connect with a good book, often by somebody dead, and they are telling me a story that seems true, and they are telling me things about myself that I know to be true, but I hadn’t been able to put together before—I feel so much less alone than I ever can sending e-mails or receiving texts. I think there’s a kind of—I don’t want to say shallow, because then I start sounding like an elitist. It’s kind of like a person who keeps smoking more and more cigarettes. You keep giving yourself more and more jolts of stimulus, because deep inside, you’re incredibly lonely and isolated. The engine of technological consumerism is very good at exploiting the short-term need for that little jolt, and is very, very bad at addressing the real solitude and isolation, which I think is increasing. That’s how I perceive my mission as a writer—and particularly as a novelist—is to try to provide a bridge from the inside of me to the inside of somebody else.

Whoaaaaa. I posted this mainly because, as a writer of stuff and reader of stuff and user of electronic communication devices and stuff, I want to come back and refer to his words, like, every day of my life from now on. Especially when I’m sitting at my laptop and I’ve been sitting there for hours typing and clicking and scrolling around Facebook and I start to feel like a shell of a person:

87 responses to “Hey, read this thing I read! And watch this thing I watched!

  1. That video was…interesting….

  2. I can’t wait to read his new book.

  3. Wow…absolutely loved this. It’s so true! I try to write with that in mind daily, but then again, I try to keep my stories short because I know in this age of technology people walk away from things faster…attention spans aren’t what they used to be! GREAT POST!

  4. whoa! my feelings exactly but I could never have said it so well. I do dig his books & now have a bigger clue into why they are so compelling.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing this excerpt–it’s all so true. I’m a young writer, but this is the still the mentality I carry with me as I write–not only trying to get people to slow down and read, but “providing a bridge;” what a great way of putting it! And in order to connect with your readers and demand their attention, that the writing really has to be compelling.

  6. I needed this today. Thank you.

  7. I found myself strangely entertained by that video…. I think you may have expanded my horizons. Ok, maybe not, but it was pretty funny.

  8. That video was…awesome! … The rest of that stuff was cool, too.

  9. GREAT article. I spend too much time on Facebook, blogs, etc at work.

    Luckily I have no internet service at home! I stopped reading for a few years, and just in the past few months I’ve started again. Nothing compares to reading a great book. Not even Twitter 🙂

  10. Quite an intuitive and enlightening post – like you I have never read Jonathan Franzen but I think I’ll have to after reading his viewpoint. Technology is the drug of choice for the new generation…

  11. I get that feeling when I read a really great book too. Again…usually by a dead person.

  12. Yo, this is on point. And, unlike many things I’ve read lately, doesn’t seem to be designed to get hits simply by having “franzen” in the tag.

    I do feel that books need to be even more “novelistic” these days to be worthwhile, and there is a clear separation between books that “do it” for me like that and ones that don’t. Ian McEwan said it much more simply and with less nuance. “It’s amazing how the form endures. Not being boring is quite a challenge”

  13. And that’s possibly why, deep inside, I want to write finish my ‘book’.

  14. Hm… This might be the most interesting thing I’ve read on the internet in a while. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Love Jonathan Franzen. Agree with what he said. Also agree that so much of electronic babble is just that. A friend describes it as a “cluster f–k.” I can’t argue. Give me a good book. Please. And make it one that makes me more self aware and more human aware.

  16. I agree completely! Thanks for sharing!


  17. Wow, he sums it up so perfectly TRUE!!!

    That video was so perfect for this blog, too. Hilarious. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  18. Pingback: Hey, read this thing I read! And watch this thing I watched! (via Madame Librarian’s Blog) « The Wit Continuum

  19. Nice post and interesting video. Thanks for sharing….:)

    Jess B. Hinkle

  20. I am so much less alone when reading. The sense of immediacy that this electronic communication gives us is thrilling, but for real depth and out of body experiences, there’s nothing like a book. Electronic media puts you in the thick of it all, books help you transcend it all. I’m glad they’re both continuing to exist. I love using modern technology to find old clips of musicians from the 20s, and old books on the Gutenberg project site. Thanks for the great post!


    I love the quote, I love your comments. I love this video.

    Well done.

  22. This was most awesome.

    Thank you.

  23. Aw, Marcel is so cute. 🙂 Made for a great end for my Friday workday.

  24. Oh wow! That is an amazing, compelling post. Thank you for bringing this to the awareness of readers and writers alike in the blog and real world.

    I have always had that sense of having a reader connect with my words, not only read them because they have been written. I will definitely be looking up Jonathan Franzen and his work.

  25. We only become a whole person by mustering up the courage to spend quiet time with ourselves. Books help transport us to that place and stimulate the process, allowing us, perhaps daring us , to explore and discover who we are. all these electron connections can frequently leave desiring more and more connections pulling us farther and farther from the core of who we are.

    the video is indeed interesting.

  26. that video was hilarious hahah

  27. Wonderful post — this interview resonates deeply with me! Thank you so much for sharing.

  28. Lol. Marcel is hilarious!
    “Guess what I use as a pen. A pen. But it takes the whole family.”
    Thanks for sharing!

  29. interesting post — I find most books written today (even the ‘good’ ones) are written with a movie deal in mind — as such, they usually fail to really intrigue me, really make me feel as though I were lost in the story — which is too bad, because I love being lost in a good story

  30. I love what that guy wrote. I love to read and I wish it would happen more often, that I find that bridge in what I read, but when it does, it is totally worth the wait.

  31. So – has anybody actually read the Franzen book? Reviews say it’s the Great American Novel, the greatest thing since Gone With the Wind.

    Things like that make me really skeptical.

  32. Wow that was amazing I love that article!!!! I like your blog, its awesome. Im a beginner at this blog business but its what I want to do, I want to be a writer, so as a really good one, do you have any advice for me???

  33. That video was amazing….lol. Thanks for the article, enjoyed reading it and gave me lots of food for thought.

  34. Thank you for sharing this – “The engine of technological consumerism is very good at exploiting the short-term need for that little jolt, and is very, very bad at addressing the real solitude and isolation, which I think is increasing. ” sometimes under those constant twitter updates and perpetually suspended chats (because you’re always online on you’re smartphone) just awaken something inside you that’s trapped in all of this. it’s really liberating to let go once in while, or more often.
    **more seriously, i really think smartphones are evil.**
    no, really – this whole culture is gearing up a world where people are more and more obsessed with instant gratification, and there is less and less inner stillness, and long-term decisions are made on this basis.

  35. Excellent point. As an English Major who is also interested in psychology I have noticed certain aspects of literature and novels that present an important aspect of the self. The fact that characters are flawed helps with this, partially because it acknowledges that it is not an odd problem that no one else is seems to have (ex. anxiety about certain things, odd habits, etc.)

  36. Franzen’s “The Corrections” is one of the best books I ever read. AND he told Oprah to stick it. Not that I don’t love Oprah – but you gotta have balls to tell her no. Thanks for the great post – all so true!!

  37. Thanks for this. As someone who has worked in public libraries for a while, the trend has become to cater to those that need their electronic gizmo fix, not their literature fix.
    I think the next logical step in Franzen’s article might be to then want to converse with another about the shared experience of that reading the book.

  38. Pingback: Hey, read this thing I read! And watch this thing I watched! (via Madame Librarian’s Blog) | SIMONE OZBOLT – LIFE ART AND EXPERIENCE

  39. The internet is distracting, that’s for sure, and it is harder to just sit down, relax, and read a book. Or, for that matter, write a book because there’s a thousand things going on at once so you’ll get to it after you read this, or respond to that, and by the time you write now the inspiration is lost.

  40. ML:
    Superb! I’m a professional editor and a published poet, and I’m sure you know the truth: that at 2:30 a.m., the gods visit, and you’re at your computer typing, and everything else drops away. You don’t write poems because you want to write poems; you write them because you have to, because you have to be you. Rock on!!! RT

  41. Great Post! Which makes more interested on her books and title.

  42. I loved the post! It’s so true.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Mon Trice

  43. Pingback: Solitude Is Also A Place « Volume

  44. Love this. I keep trying not to lose hope that one day my ms. will be published — because people are reading less and less. And I just finished THE DUMBEST GENERATION which didn’t do much to encourage me that I’ll ever find my name sideways on the spine of a book on a shelf. There are so many roadblocks. So thank you for the reminder of what I do what I do (teach writing) and why I cannot give up.

    Come visit me at: http://rasjacobson.wordpress.com

  45. i like what he had to say.

    i’m obsessed with marcel.

  46. I liked the video – thanks for posting.

  47. Nice post. I strongly agree with the quote: “to try to provide a bridge from the inside of me to the inside of somebody else.” Yes, I want to share my thought with others. Hope the readers might find it useful somehow. Thanks for share. 🙂

  48. Great post, weird video. 🙂

    It seems the more time people spend on the internet, especially with social media, the less they’re connecting with the real world/real people. It’s time to put down your iPhones and iPods, and delete your 140 characters and take a walk outside, read a good book, LIVE!… Of course now I feel a little dirty saying that in a comment forum, on a blog, on a Saturday afternoon. 🙂



  49. Great perspective on things! Cute video. 😀

  50. I get this. Reading a great book is a very intimate experience. It’s just you and “these words.” These wonderfully written and beautifully expressed thoughts and feelings. And when it’s done well, it evokes all sorts of thoughts and feelings inside you, the reader, as well. That’s why I like to be alone when I read. Or how I can become totally unaware of what is going on around me when I am reading something that has my complete interest.
    However, the Internet is my “quick fix.” And I’m really addicted!

  51. I love when the words of someone else really “moves” me, as in how you were moved by Franzen’s words, and now myself as well. He is a writer – there’s no doubt about that. A real, to the core writer. I love going into the mind of a great writer, even when not in their novel, as in this case. Maybe it’s even better than being in a novel. I can see that you really took to the point he was trying to make. I hope it helps with your writing. Oh, and by the way, that video was so odd, and funny. The voice of that shell was addictive to listen to – I think you should post it on Youtube or something. It might be interesting to see how many viewers respond there as well. Good luck!

  52. Fantastic post about the power of books – I agree.
    Marcel was captivating!

  53. Amazing excerpt… thank you for sharing with us.
    Beautiful video.


  54. Awesome post! Great job!

  55. Thanks for sharing this excerpt! Perfect words really, I too could connect with them because I have felt the same way when reading some books. I guess this is always the outcome if you are honest as a writer, whether of a blog or a book. Wonderful video too 🙂

    Congratulations on being featured on Freshly Pressed!

  56. lol! awesome video! xD

  57. his words sum up all what i feel too, but i couldn’t have said it this well.
    awesome post.

  58. Great post! I’m sooo getting the book now! Thanks!

  59. thanks for the introduction to this guy!



  60. It’s such a fantastical article because it is SO TRUE! hahaha

  61. The act of writing and reading (yes one act) has been referred to as the most intimate. Thank you for sharing, it was powerful and deserves to be up on WordPress’s front page. It deserves to be said and shared.

    Now, not so alone. 🙂

  62. Pingback: A Bridge From Cyber Chaos to the World of Words « Lessons From Teachers and Twits

  63. perpetuallyfrank

    That quotation sums up a big part of why I want to be a literature professor in the age of Twitter and the instant message. I’m glad I clicked to your blog from the WordPress frontpage. And I agree about Facebook making a person feel like a shell – it’s like there are all of these people who you can read about, so you can see what they are doing and keep up with them, but people rarely post about anything important, so reading Facebook status updates will never take the place of conversation. Using Facebook just makes me crave a phone call, a conversation over tea, or hell, even a substantial email.

  64. Pingback: Hey, read this thing I read! And watch this thing I watched! (via Madame Librarian’s Blog) « Julie Wrote What?

  65. Wow, that last quoted bit about the bridge…. pretty incredible. I wrote something about this a few months back, about a new disease that is highly contagious called I-Technoscreenoryphilis. I had been on a date with my boyfriend (which we don’t usually get to do with our opposite schedules), and he had barely looked up from his Iphone and couldn’t be bother to just turn it off or put it away for just the hour we went out to sushi. Boiled my blood! lol

  66. Thank you. I needed someone else to verbalize this. With facebook and blogging so prevalent, how about if we just turn it off more often and connect with something more real.

  67. So glad I clicked your link. Good post..and the clip at the end made me smile haha, so thanks for that too.

  68. What an awesome quote! Makes total sense! I love it when I can agree to things that I’ve never been able to put into words myself before! Bravo!

  69. I agree that the recent advents in electronic communication have affected the quality of what people write, and even changed how we relate to each other. However, I wouldn’t dare trade it for older times.

    I don’t think they’re necessarily to blame though. In the same way that guns don’t cause shootings, violent video games don’t cause violence, and eggs, flour, and milk don’t cause cakes, easy electronic communication does not cause shallow writing, or isolation in a crowd.

    These are still the purview of the author. If an author is so inclined, he or she can still write outstanding pieces with tremendous depth by doing his or her homework, and making sure the piece (of whatever format) is quite refined. One can also make very real connections to other people by writing from the heart, and keeping their heart open when reading what others have written. It’s all up to the individual, not the tool used to effect that purpose.

  70. I want to “try to provide a bridge from inside of me to the inside of somebody else.”
    Brilliant because it so concisely gets to what we all long for: connection that is not superficial, but involves both an understanding and an exchange (since a bridge involves traveling back and forth, of course) in the meeting of minds, or maybe of souls.
    Excellent find, ML

  71. This idea might cross over into other fields, for example the huge craft and diy culture that’s emerging in the face of consumerism; sure, we can all afford to buy that scarf that was produced in China and it will cause absolutely no lasting satisfaction whatosever. OR we can knit ourselves a new scarf that takes time and effort and in the end you have something that kept you engaged for a long period of time and not for the minute it took to walk up to the counter and pay for it. I think a lot of people are starting to feel a it empty and unfulfilled by social media and the intangibility of lives lived out through a computer and are beginning to reach out to literature, craft, art etc.

  72. As someone who smokes, reads, writes, and goes onto Facebook several times a day, I totally relate to what Franzen says here. I too could benefit by reading this every day of my life, so thank you for posting it. I hear his book is out of this world, and can’t wait to read it. I loved The Corrections too.

  73. very true. many people’s ‘connectiveness’ is an illusion that prevents them for making room to let people in their real life and to find out who they really are.
    emerging into a good book and coming out with new understanding and ideas is so much more valuable than spending hours on facebook or blogs.
    oh, hey wait.. ?
    ps:marcelisgorgeous!!! i want to take give him a new home and talk with him about our insecurities..

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