11 February 2011

Patty Berglund

I never read novels. In the last 20 years I may have read two or three long works of fiction. Many times I would start a book that my wife was reading, just to quit after a few chapters.

I had the desire. In high school read science fiction, and I had some great teachers that planted the reading seed. They had me read many classics that I enjoyed. However, later, in college I turned to non-fiction and stayed strictly in that camp with rare exceptions

So last fall, I saw a David Brooks article about Jonathan Franzen's book Freedom. Brooks thought Franzen's view was too bleak and was too demeaning to the American middle class. But Brooks made me want to read the book.

So for $12.99 I downloaded the book onto my phone. This was my first experience with reading lengthy works on my phone, and I found the experience immersive. Throughout the day, I would read sections so that for several weeks my mind was filled with Patty Berglund. I wasn't really sure why I found the characters so compelling. It had something to do with the current nature of their mindset. They are totally of this time, of my people, so to speak. And of course the writing was excellent. And while I found several faults with the plot and even some dislike for the characters, I had a strong longing to know them, really know them. I kept thinking, why do I care about Patty? She is immature and her looks aren't even really described, yet I think I fell for her. It was a strange feeling.

I read the book straight through ... and then I went back and re-read parts, sometimes several times. Then when I was burned-out on Freedom I moved on to some of Franzen's recommendations, such as The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and The Great Gatsby (which I had read in high school, but didn't really appreciate). Then I read the Corrections, his novel from 2001. All of this on my phone, and each one a kind of immersive experience.

"They drive past Port Roosevelt and the valley of ashes where Mr. and Mrs. Wilson live and are stopped by a policeman. Gatsby flashes a card and they are on their way again over the Queensboro Bridge, passing a funeral procession, and across Blackwell's Island."

So, the commonality in these books is that they each capture the essence of the time in which they were written. Gatsby the roaring 20s, Gray Flannel Suit the 50s, the Corrections the 90s, and Freedom, the 2000s. They are also all written by upper middle class white men about the same. Another commonality I think is that they would all make terrible movies. Gray Flannel has a sappy ending which probably helped make it a semi successful movie in the 50s, but Gatsby's strength is in the spareness of the writing. Maybe it could be done kinda as a newsreel. Unfortunately, there is yet another Gatsby movie coming out this year.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit:
Total War Total Living 

I plan on keeping on with the novels. I just finished the Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet, and found it very enjoyable. Not sure what is next. Suggestions welcome.


Mark Miller said...

"Motherhood Made a Man Out of Me" by Karen Karbo

I don't think it's available in electronic format, but you can pick up a cheap hard or softcover edition on Amazon.

You'll love the story.

CityKin said...

Not sure I can read on paper anymore.