Episode 9: How to Be Alone

In this episode, we’re joined by novelist Brandon Taylor to discuss Jonathan Franzen’s first essay collection, How to Be Alone. Published in 2002, the book collects fourteen essays that previously appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, Details, and other publications, including arguably his two most famous and controversial: “Perchance to Dream”—retitled and revised here as “Why Bother?”—which grapples with the state of the social novel in a country increasingly indifferent to fiction and “Mr. Difficult,” an essay that purports to be about William Gaddis and “difficult fiction” but is really a kind of manifesto about Franzen’s own turn toward the accessible. These are essays that have a reputation for being solipsistic and dour and yet, they’re also moving, curious, and surprisingly funny.

About Mr. Difficult

How did Jonathan Franzen become America’s most divisive novelist? Is he even good? And what’s the deal with his relationship with birds, anyway? Mr. Difficult is a podcast devoted to exploring these and many other questions related to this great American novelist. (Or is it the great American novelist?) Join co-hosts Erin Somers and Alex Shephard and producer Eric Jett as they discuss each of Franzen’s six novels, as well as his nonfiction.