Jonathan Franzen Channels St. Francis of Assisi
Essayist and novelist Jonathan Franzen is a birder, and reads here from his recent collection of essays, Farther Away (Amazon link):
Laura Helmuth, a writer for Slate Magazine, thinks he is annoying. WC thinks Franzen’s sometimes cranky and dyspeptic tone is pitch-perfect for our times, and that he captures the mood of a birder perfectly.
As much as anything, Franzen seems to WC to be a modern St. Francis, the patron saint of birders and the man who, in conformance with the direction of Matthew, strove to find brotherhood in nature, and especially in birds.
In his essay on his commencement address at Kenyon College, “Pain Won’t Kill You,” Franzen wrote:
It’s a long story, but basically I fell in love with birds. I did this not without significant resistance, because it is very uncool to be a birdwatcher, because anything that betrays real passion is by definition uncool. But little by little, in spite of myself, I developed this passion, and although one half of a passion is obsession, the other half is love.
And when that passion is confronted by mindless killing of birds, by frightening habitat loss, climate change and environmental poisoning, well, it’s a wonder to WC that Franzen can keep his tone as positive as he does. He doesn’t give up on birds. Not just because they are his passion, but also because to give up on birds and birding would be to give up altogether, to admit there is no hope for mankind on our sadly abused planet.
Not all of the essays in Farther Away focus on birds and birding, but it is a recurring theme. It’s also a superbly written collection. Recommended.