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Jonathan Franzen in Bernal Heights.

March 8, 2012

Today, I walked along Cortland Street the main drag of the slowly gentrifying Bernal Hights neighborhood to have lunch at the local overpriced sandwich shop. Along the way I purchased a discounted copy of Jonathan Franzen’s semi-autobiographical work “The Discomfort Zone”(2006) and began reading it as I wolfed down a hot pastrami sandwich and washed it down with a glass of ginger lemonade. Franzen is one of that new breed of writers (like Bolano) that believes modern fiction is essentially the author’s memoir.

Like most modern fiction deemed “serious” ever since the 1950s, it deals with resigned acceptance of alienation. That is why I stopped reading serious fiction in favor of genre, like mysteries, science fiction and fantasy. I hate reading about resigned acceptance of alienation. To me alienation should be approached with a sense of the absurdity of the mental derangement that so often prompts it or with pure fury at the injustice that may have engendered it.

Anyway, he does come up with a few quotes worth repeating. As you know I am obsessed with collecting quotes. Sort of like my friend Don Neuwirth who used to carry a notebook everywhere with him into which he copied things he heard or read that appealed to him; much like collecting stamps. I, on the other hand, always feel an unstoppable compulsion to move those quotes immediately from my possession and, welcome or not, into the consciousness of others.

In writing about his flight from his childhood home in St. Louis close to the nations geographic and demographic center to its fringes on its coasts Franzen observes:

“…so the country as a whole has fled the center economically, ending up in a system in which the wealthiest one percent of the population takes in sixteen percent of total income [up from eight percent in 1975]. This is a great time to be an American CEO, a tough time to be the CEO’s lowest paid worker. A great time to be Wal-Mart, a tough time to be in Wal-Mart’s way, a great time to be an incumbent extremist, a tough time to be a moderate challenger. Fabulous to be a defense contractor, shitty to be a reservist, excellent to have tenure at Princeton, grueling to be an adjunct at Queens College; outstanding to manage a pension fund, lousy to rely on one; better than ever to be bestselling, harder than ever to be mid-list; phenomenal to win a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament, a drag to be a video-poker addict.”

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