This post is part of the August Synchroblog: Summertime, Summertime, Sum Sum Summertime in which we were invited to share our favorite books and/or movies of the summer. Be sure and check out the list of contributions to this months synchroblog which I will list at the end of this post as they become available. To learn more about the synchroblog please visit the Synchroblog site.
When hubby and I went to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes this past weekend I checked in on Foursquare at our favorite theater (of which I am the Foursquare Mayor) and received a message saying that I had achieved a new record because I had checked in “12 weekends in a row” at this particular theater. 12? Could it really be 12? We do love to go to the movies, but I wasn’t sure if I could remember 12 movies I had seen in the last three months.
Green Lantern, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Larry Crowne, CaptainAmerica: The First Avenger, Friends with Benefits, Cowboys and Aliens, The Hangover Part 2, Bridesmaids, X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Bad Teacher, Rise of the Planet of the Apes … it looks like we may have been there 12 weekends in a row!
However, I don’t know that I could really write a whole post about any of those movies. There just isn’t that much substance in summer movies. They are fun and entertaining but they don’t create a lot of conversation afterwards. Sure Larry Crowne was a sweet story about the importance of community and second chances; and Rise of the Planet of the Apes could be considered a wake-up call; and Julie Clawson did write a full length post about Cowboys and Aliens which was very interesting … but the most I can really say about my movie experience this summer is that for the most part it was fun and entertaining. (For the record, I guess my favorite summer flick was Super 8).
That is why I really needed a good, long, epic sort of book to read this summer. I needed something that I could dive into, live within, immerse myself, connect to, reflect upon, struggle with … but it had to be fiction! because I am mostly drawn to fiction these days. I seem to learn more, get more insight, experience more transformation, find truth more in a great novel than in anything else I read these days. It is something about “the story” that connects me in a way that stays with me.
So that is what led to me reading the novel Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.
You probably heard all the hype when it came out last fall … “The Next Great American Novel” “The Most Over-Hyped New Novel” “A Poignant Indictment of Contemporary American Life”
It is long (over 500 pages) and covers a span of more than 30 years in the life of a family who is in a sort of free-fall as they try to figure out how to live in the world they find themselves in.
It is almost impossible to give a brief description of the plot as it includes so many things … fidelity, infidelity, politics, war, war profiteering, depression, marriage, friendship, personal liberties, social responsibility, environmental issues, teen rebellion, betrayal, capitalism, regulation, sex, love … even rock ‘n roll. It tells a lot of stories and it spreads them out over a few decades and continents.
The closeup story centers around a love triangle between Patty and Walter Berglund and Walter’s lifelong best friend/competitor, Richard Katz, who is also a rock star. The broader story examines life and the stresses of life in our post 9/11 world.
It seems to me that the theme or question that keeps coming up in the story is “how to live with the freedoms we have without destroying ourselves, others, what we care about and the world in general.” As it turns out, freedom is more than a right or a privilege or an opportunity … freedom is a responsibility, a chore, a problem … sometimes even a curse. It’s complicated because one person’s freedom often seems to infringe upon another person’s freedom. Freedom doesn’t really translate into “let’s all be happy and get along” as much as us Americans would like to suggest that it does/can. I think Walter frames the concept of how freedom isn’t all it is cracked up to be when he says, “…the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to.”
If you can’t read a book unless you are in love with the characters then this book isn’t going to be that enjoyable for you. None of the characters are cuddly … but they do come off as real people with many layers who are often living contradictions of who they think they are and strive to be. Franzan is a genius at creating characters that are so real one thinks about them even when not reading the book. He describes them so thoroughly that it is as if he has actually created a life … someone you might run into at the grocery story or see in the car stopped next to you at a red light.
Although this book is about serious stuff, it does not lack humor (just like real life). It is actually billed as a comedy-drama and Franzen is quite good (astute even) when it comes to witty descriptions of real life predicaments that are roll on the floor funny. One of the most hilarious moments is when we find Joey (Patty and Walter’s rebellious, mixed-up son) in a hotel bathroom digging through his own poop trying to find his wedding ring that he accidentally swallowed while the girl he is cheating with bangs on the locked bathroom door because she needs to pee.
In the end, I came away with the feeling that I had read something important, something I wanted to talk to others about, something I wanted to ponder. I also came away with a few new ideas about freedom:
Freedoms are best enjoyed when they exist with imposed limitations and structure, whether that is in the world at large, a city, a neighborhood, a family or a friendship.
True freedom cannot really be found in any form of autonomy because we are only content when we are in a right and healthy relationship with others and the world we live in.
Can it be called freedom if it leads to depression, loneliness and/or destruction?
If you haven’t already done so, I recommend that you read Freedom by Jonathan Franzan. Although only time will tell if it truly is a Great American Novel, I think it will be a book that is talked about for years to come.
What would you consider a great summer read?
Check out these other synchroblog posts:
- K.W. Leslie at The Evening of Kent – My Summer Reading List, Thus Far
- Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – 12 Movies and a Novel
- Maria Kettleson Anderson at The Real Journey – Fiction, Movies and TV
- Steve Knight at Knightopia – Down We Go
- Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – A Book That Invades Your Dreams
- Andrea at Andrea’s Balancing Act – What Do My Favorite Books Say About Me?
- Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved – Loyalty and Valor
- Steve Hayes at Khanya – Summer Reading
- Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in My Head – movies + books = summer fun
- Peter Walker at Emerging Christian – This is for All the Lonely People
- Carie at Carie’s Garden – Thar Be Dragons