January 12, 2019

"I think writers are basically very sociable introverts. And I think that's also a description of serious readers too."

"You like seeing people, but at a certain point, enough is enough — give me a book, let me shut the door. And what are you shutting the door and going into your room to do but to connect with the person who wrote the book — that is, to connect with people in a different place, but be very very much connected? So I think there's a very strong social urge in both the reader and the writer."

From a conversation with Jonathan Franzen.

I've been reading his novel "Freedom," just a few weeks after finishing his "Corrections." I decided to read his novels while I was in the middle of reading his newest book of essays, the third book of his essays I was reading. Why was I reading all this nonfiction — and only nonfiction — from a writer of reputedly great novels?

I'd gotten the idea of myself as a person who reads nonfiction, but in the past year or so, I've switched to mostly fiction. It all started here, strangely enough.

Anyway, I'm very interested in the idea of reading and writing — in solitude — as a way to have relationships with other people and something that really is sociable.

45 comments:

EDH said...

I'd gotten the idea of myself as a person who reads nonfiction, but in the past year or so, I've switched to mostly fiction.

You know there are news sources other than NYT and WaPo.

Ann Althouse said...

"You know there are news sources other than NYT and WaPo."

I often open a long list of bookmarks to various news sources and go through looking for things to blog, but you don't seem to notice, I guess. What's the point?!

mccullough said...

Franzen is still alive. Is it less sociable to read an author who is dead? It’s harder to read David Foster Wallace now knowing he killed himself.

robother said...

Aren't there studies about the hazards of too much page time? I'm concerned about Ann's reading habit.

EDH said...

Never mind. Just joking about NYT and WaPo being the “mostly fiction” you’ve switched to.

Noticed the exasperation you’ve expressed lately about low standards of truth /and honesty at MSM news reporting.

chillblaine said...

Hi fam, here is a link to my batboy photo, the one in the Astros uniform. We had to call it a, "uni." Ok, Twitter Link To Photo of Some Kid in an Astros Uni. later fam-a-lam.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

I want to talk about the things I have read, but rarely have the opportunity to do so, and substitute reading reviews at Amazon for it.

An introvert wanting to socialize over words is basically the description of my 7 year Althouse habit.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

And a rare miss for Althouse! EDH was obviously joking about WaPo and NYT being fiction.

M Jordan said...

Franzen’s right, readers and writers are introvert/extroverts. I too am an introvert/extrovert. But 35 years of enforced extrovertism in a teaching career has made my introvert side demand equal time. Hence, today I look for quiet places.

mockturtle said...

EDH's apt quip spoiled by Althouse's knee-jerk reaction. Oh, well.

mockturtle said...

While I have an outgoing and 'sociable' personality, I'm happiest in solitude. A dear friend has been visiting and, while I enjoy her company, it was nonetheless a relief to see her go. Other than my late husband of forty years, there has never been anyone with whom I wanted to spend most of my waking hours.

Since I read primarily history, my connections are usually with the characters rather than with the author. The author is a conveyance. Even with my favorite fiction writer, Dostoyevsky, it is his characters [and not usually the main character] with whom I connect. It takes a skillful writer to create such engaging personalities that one can miss them terribly when finishing the book.

M Jordan said...

“A Reading Problem” by Jean Stanford is a delightful short story which addressed the problem of finding a quiet place to read. I can’t find a good link to it but if you have New Yorker access you can read it there.

M Jordan said...

Jean “Stafford”. (Correction to above)

Henry said...

I've just finished reading a book of essays by Phillip Pullman, Daemon Voices. He has a wonderful essay, "The Classical Tone" with a suitably classical subtitle that begins: "On the narrator -- a very unusual character..."

The narrator, says Pullman, is not the author. The narrator is a character invented by the author, a disembodied voice made manifest, a miracle of sorts:

This capacity of the narrator to move from here to there with the speed of thought, to see a whole panorama in one glance and then to fly down like a dragonfly and land with utter precision on the most important detail, to look ahead in time as well as to look behind, is one of the most extraordinary beings we human beings have ever invented. We take it for granted, and I think we should applaud it a little more... [E]very time I read a book where the author is so miraculously in control of this ghostly being, the narrator, this voice so like a human's but so uncanny in its knowledge and so swift and sprite-like in its movement, I feel a delight in possibility and mystery and make-believe.

In that essay Pullman also talks about the ability of the narrator to put you inside a character's head which speaks to the connection that Franzen mentions. But there is much more magic than that. Where, in our daily lives, do we ever connect so perfectly with another human being's inner being?

Gahrie said...

Noticed the exasperation you’ve expressed lately about low standards of truth /and honesty at MSM news reporting.

She's fine with it when it supports her positions. A perfect example is her belief in/support for CBF and the Left in their despicable attempt to smear Kavanaugh in order to protect abortion "rights".

William said...

When I was younger, I used to read a lot of fiction. I suppose I wanted examine the possibilities of life and maybe pick up a few pointers. Happy endings or, at the very least, poetically tragic endings were an attraction..... Now, towards my own rather banal ending, I read mostly history and biographies. Life no longer has that many possibilities, but it's interesting to read about the lives of the famous and reflect on how even the very successful screw up quite a lot of things. Even if you're very smart and very lucky and very good, life fucks you over. It's such a comfort to know these things.

robother said...

To break my own addiction to the printed page, I have found that watching televised football is beneficial. Sitting through endless "instant" replays (followed by arbitrary just making it up calls) develops the kind of patience and stoic acceptance that years of "can't put it down" page-turners have undermined.

narciso said...

Franzen I cant really stand that's why I choose author like Vazquez Gomez and volpi who are better in translation who I recommended to friends.

Temujin said...

For much of my life I read nothing but fiction. Somewhere along the line I started to read nothing but non-fiction, and it gets laborious doing so. Some of the books I've picked up over the years, while interesting, are not written by writers, but by experts in other fields (history, politics, science). So there is no prose, just information. I find myself struggling to get through some of these books, even if I find the topic interesting.

Then I pick up a work of fiction, and it's a relief. If the writer is especially good at his/her craft and the prose is as good as the story, I find that I don't want it to end. With non-fiction I often wonder if it will ever end.

I suspect most writers are social introverts because you have to be alone, a lot, to do your work. I've read a number of books by writers on writing. None of them ever said: 'Hey, the key is to go out every night for dinner and be seen in the hottest restaurant in town, then slip over to the local club for a raging night of alcohol and dance.' Of course, there was Hunter S. Thompson, but that's another story.

Kevin said...

"You know there are news sources other than NYT and WaPo."

Yes but they’re hardly as revealing or entertaining.

gg6 said...

'Reading fiction as sociability' is an interesting idea, indeed. - the introvert in me subscribes to that 100%. The great added attraction is that characters in quality Fiction are invariably so much more interesting and 'lively' than the neighbors, work-colleagues, friends and relatives of so-called 'real' Life. They also are more 'real' than the Fake characters the Media constantly yammer on about.

traditionalguy said...

Your theme about the "sociable introverts" is spot on as a description of my experience. My view has been that we need the intelligent communication of thoughts in words to stay fully alive. But my old folks sociable group is weak tea. So I have turned to read/hear the works of great minds, our current favorites being LaAlthouse and some Professors that narrate their own lectures in the Great Courses on Audible. Recently, the wife and I have enjoyed adding the book and the collected Youtubes of the lectures by Professor Jordan Peterson.

Fernandistein said...

I think writers are unsocial extroverts. And I think that's also a description of serious readers too.

chillblaine said...

I think a lot about writers, they are comprised of many things, ahem. M'glavin excuse me ahem. Also my cargo shorts are weather-proof, perhaps. Excuse me got some mail. That's it for the crab cakes.

rcocean said...

I've started on David Sedraris book "theft by finding". I tried to read it, and gave up, then got the audio book and I'm enjoying it.

He has an interesting voice and his book needs to be heard in that voice.

alanc709 said...

I've been a voracious reader since I was young, and have always been very shy. I'm very extroverted when I get to know someone, however, so I'm not certain where I fit on that spectrum. Like I saw above, I have developed a strong appetite for the videos of Jordan Peterson.

Jeff Brokaw said...

I would say readers are trying to connect with the story, characters, etc rather than the author. Personally I have never thought of reading an author’s work as connecting “socially”, really.

My $.02 anyway. Many interpretations possible here, all of them good, since reading is so important.

Sebastian said...

"I'm very interested in the idea of reading and writing — in solitude — as a way to have relationships with other people and something that really is sociable."

It's sociability for people who don't like sociability.

Jeff Brokaw said...

With non-fiction, I’d say readers connect with the actual people and events described, and the larger story developing around all of that, more than the author. Just my take of course.

Franzen’s idea is interesting. I never knew I was an introvert / extrovert until about 15 years ago - it’s empowering and enlightening to learn after 40+ years of life that you are a type with well-understood needs and preferences. Would have been good to know that before now! Lol.

Bob said...

> I'm very interested in the idea of reading and writing — in solitude — as a way to have relationships with other people and something that really is sociable.

“I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension.” ― W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

traditionalguy said...

NB: Non-fiction is a false claim asserted by writers who want to be judged differently. They are creating stories about real events. We used to call that category Historical Fiction.

tim in vermont said...

I know it sounds weird, but I relate to Mark Twain, or Dostoyevski, or even David Foster Wallace on a far deeper level than I do most of my friends. I know that they are bullshitting us in a lot of ways, heightening reality for us, but still.


(followed by arbitrary just making it up calls)

Come on, there was just the one last week where they really seemed like they made up a rule on the field.

tim in vermont said...

One of my favorite vacations was a trip to Bermuda and it rained the whole time and the hotel had a lovely lobby and a library full of books taking place in the old British Empire. Family didn’t see it the same way

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I think writers are basically very sociable introverts. And I think that's also a description of serious stalkers too.

FIFY

chillblaine said...

nutty thread, but, look at the scoreboard. what does it tell you, the final score1 So, do the Chargers have enough beef to deploy enough big slabs of beef, tell me what you think, now a massage from our sponsor

robother said...

The Chargers? Philip Rivers will break your heart. Should be a separate Hall of Fame for guys like him and Dan Marino.

traditionalguy said...

I recall Phillip Rivers coming to Grant Field once as a freshman QB with underdog North Carolina State and breaking the heart of many a Yellow Jacket with his amazing passes that day.

Robert Cook said...

"To break my own addiction to the printed page, I have found that watching televised football is beneficial."

I can't imagine any reason I would subject myself to watching a football game, live or televised.

Charlie said...

What Temujin said. I read a lot of non-fiction of all sorts, but what I look for the most in either fiction or non-fiction is well-crafted prose, engaging characters, and a story that pulls you from page to page. I read voraciously in part because it's so much easier to engage mentally and emotionally with a book than with people -- I'm an introvert. But having read something great I want to talk about it at length. Writing is my way to have those conversations that are difficult to pull off in the real world.

RobinGoodfellow said...


Blogger mockturtle said...
While I have an outgoing and 'sociable' personality, I'm happiest in solitude.


I’m the same way. My dad was, and my younger brother is, very gregarious. I yam what I yam.

The Cracker Emcee Rampant said...

Not an introvert but, unquestionably, great writing offers both escape and access. Escape from your own reality, access to realities one can’t possibly experience for oneself. That’s why I love the actual, physical, book. To own all this human experience and ingenuity in a portable handful of paper. That’s some magical shit.

chillblaine said...

The Chargers big slabs of beef doing swell. Fourth and 91. Rivers drops back, it's a flea flicker! They go all the way!!!! Ok, let's break for a message from our sponsor, wow, what a great day, ok, REmember, when your stool is a little slow, try. Don't try and accidentally prolapse, instead try, ahem, Lex-Lax or Cope Fitness Hydration Coffee Enema (Cappucino) later sportsfanz

narciso said...

I tried Marlon James 'game of thrones' take on the posse wars in Jamaica, 'history of seven killings' and couldn't finish.

robother said...

"...breaking the heart of many a Yellow Jacket..."

I'd forgotten that GaTech are the Yellow Jackets: somehow thought they were Rambling Wrecks (i.e., pre-war Ford coup) that embodied the endless mechanical tinkering engineers grew up on. College football was a lot more provincial when I was raised in the 50s, (though I have a daughter who went to college in Raleigh, so I should know better).

William Chadwick said...

When I, a Baby Boomer, lived in a civilized society, reading was one of the glues that formed our society (and by "our" I mean the society I inhabited). You could discuss books--and not just the current bestsellers but literature--and not be thought a snob or a fake. Now I live among trained-but-not-really-educarted Millenials in a Sunbelt "Edge City" who don't seem to read anything. Thank God I can retreat into my books.