At some point, we’ve all probably been asked to “say something interesting” about ourselves during an icebreaker or getting to know you activity. Or, we’ve been asked if we know any good jokes. These are the types of questions that drive me crazy, because I know that I have good answers to them, but the answers always seem to escape me in the moment of need, and I resort to posing “What’s the difference between snow-men and snow-women?…”
The same thing tends to happen when people ask me what my favorite book, or who my author, is. It’s not simply that there are too many good books or too many good authors to choose one. I blank anytime the question is asked, as if I have never read a good book in my life. It is a supremely frustrating occurrence, because in temporarily losing my memory, I forfeit the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite topics of all time — my book and author preferences.
And so, when I finished listening to Jonathan Franzen’s most recent novel, Purity, on my commute yesterday, I decided that it was time to officially lodge Franzen’s name in my long-term memory as a favorite author. I can’t quite say that he is singularly my favorite author (I don’t think I could make that kind of commitment to any author), and I can’t say that I have unreserved affection for Franzen (the first sentence out of my mouth as the last sentence of Purity was read was “What the ****?!?!”), but he earns a place as a favorite in this reader’s soul because each of his three novels that I have read (Freedom, The Corrections, and Purity) have made me feel like a fly on the wall of a family therapy session. And I’ve realized that one of the primary reasons I read is because I am insanely curious about peoples lives, thoughts, relationships, and regrets, and literature provides an outlet for satiating this curiosity without forcing me to breach the social boundary of asking probing questions to mild acquaintances.
I must get my fix of dysfunctional families, mommy and daddy-issues, sibling rivalry, regrettable decisions and deep-seeded fears, and Franzen gives it to me. Through time-hopping, intricate character development, interior and exterior dialogue and complex plot development, Franzen allows me to voyeuristically peer into the minds, marriages, emotional lives and friendships of his fascinating characters. For letting me be an omniscient fly on the wall, he earns a place as a favorite author.