In a recent appearance on Lateline, Mr Great American Novelist himself, Jonathan Franzen, confessed he doesn’t much like to watch television at night. Instead, the lauded author of The Corrections and Freedom favours a period of quiet, literary contemplation before resting his enlightened head for some intellectual shut-eye.
“I’m not hostile to technology… I’m hostile to invasive technology in my workplace and also in my reading space,” said Franzen. “You know, once it’s passed a certain hour in the evening it’s time to be reading. I just– I don’t want to be near a TV, I don’t want to be near a computer because I need that time alone to commune with a book.”
The irony of his making the statement on a late-night television show aside, Franzen’s evening timetable seems sweetly old-fashioned in a time of 24/7 connectivity and expanding digital channels. In a typically Gen-Y fashion, hardly a night at home goes by when I’m not toggling multiple sites on my laptop as the television beams nearby. When you get up in the morning, chances are you’ve been greeted by a technological artefact before a flatmate or family member. Like chipper variations of Orwell’s telescreens, these neon panels are with us from the first glimpse at the computer in the morning, to the iPhone on the train, right through to the ever-reliable box before bed.
This is where I found myself at roughly 10:42pm that night, munching on my second-course of Special K, listening to Mr Franzen tell me to pull the plug. So I took his advice.
In those first, frightening dull moments, I didn’t know what to do. The room was still and silent, and without the comforting thrum of the television monitor, strangely empty. I looked nearby for something diverting, but only found fleetingly entertaining newspaper supplements — the kind with aggressively helpful headlines like “Why YOU Need To Detox NOW!” — and scraps of discarded To-Do lists.
Turning to the bookshelves, I searched for something to fill the noiseless void. They were crammed with ‘serious’ titles (some read, some mere intellectual decorations), but under the gaze of Tolstoy and Eliot, Milton and Marx, I just felt guilty. Spines facing outward, they seemed to be turning their backs to me, as if to say, “Well, stuffed with worldly wisdom as we are, I think we both know this isn’t going to work out.”
But then, a flash of red caught my eye. Against the tattered Penguins, it looked bold and new, and as I moved closer, the title The Corrections shouted above its staid neighbours. Cram it, Fitzgerald, it seemed to say. There’s a new kid in town.
Sliding the paperback out of the shelf, I plonked myself down and started to read.
It was the second time that night Mr Franzen had given me gold.