Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Holiday Special -- The Corrections

I am just back from Bethlehem, PA, recovering from family time, and settling in for the final countdown to 2005.

It's a longish drive from Boston to Bethlehem -- not worth flying, but still taxing on my sanity. A couple years ago, I discovered that books on tape structure the drive time infinitely better than radio or my modest collection of music tapes and CDs. Being a musician, I never would have guessed this but just luckily stumbled into it. And thank God I did. Holiday time by itself is already taxing enough on my sanity.

From this year's holiday drive, I am pleased to recommend The Corrections, as written by Jonathan Franzen and read by Dylan Baker. It's a dark and utterly hilarious account of the crazy dysfunctional Lambert family as their lives fall apart in a myriad of ways. Baker's reading is right on and features evocative accents of the many different characters.

The funny thing is that I didn't have any idea what The Corrections was about when I borrowed it from the library. Had I known, I probably would have put it back on the shelf, in the manner of the Lambert's firstborn son Gary, whose actions are carefully calculated to conceal his pains. As it was, I was blessedly free from the self-conscious weight of deliberately choosing a crazy family story, and so I relished every bit of it. The fact that the novel careens towards a Christmas-time climax made the whole story almost too perfect for my holiday driving entertainment.

And now, prepare to be amazed by my obligatory connection to social network analysis....

What planted The Corrections in my brain and got me to listen to it? Ironically, a rather funny commentary in its own right about meta-humility, from a recent Sunday NY Times Magazine column (which you need to pay to read by now, since it's buried in the archives). In contrast to the many actors and politicians who profess to be "humbled" when they win Oscars or big elections, Jonathan Franzen has not learned the art of public so-called humility. Hence when Oprah offered to list The Corrections on her best-seller-guaranteeing Orpah Book Club, Franzen's reply was essentially, "No, thanks. I am a serious writer and the Oprah Book Club is beneath me." You have to hand it to the guy for sticking to his principles even when it not only costs him immediate big sales but also alienates thousands of potential lifelong fans.

So anyway, even if Franzen is quite possibly a jerk who thinks we won't appreciate his book and prefers not to have common folks recommending it, I am going to go out on a limb and advise you to check it out anyway.


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