This month I have been reading Freedom, the new book from Jonathan Franzen.
I haven’t read anything by Franzen before, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and if I’m honest I was rather daunted by sheer chunkiness of it. 570 pages to be exact.
I do love reading, I really do. So much so that in 2008 I made a resolution to read 100 books in the year, and managed 104. But, at the moment I just don’t seem to have the time – I read four pages in bed, fall asleep, then have to go back two the next night to remind myself what happened. I thought Freedom was going to take me years…
It didn’t though. I knuckled down, picked up the pace, and was soon engrossed in the intricate, complex lives of the Berglunds, a fairly typical American family, heavily influenced by their upbringings, their relationships and their sometimes rather confused moral beliefs.
The description on Amazon calls it “an epic of contemporary love and marriage…capturing the temptations and burdens of too much liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire.”
Well quite. You can see why I was a bit daunted can’t you?
I really enjoyed it though. It made me think. It made me think about exactly what freedom means nowadays. Freedom is seen by many as the ultimate goal – we want to be free from having to work, free from worrying about money, free to choose our partners, our dreams – but is it really that simple?
Franzen’s characters may have freedom in some senses, but they are simultaneously constrained by their pasts, their families and their apparent inability to choose when and with whom they fall in love. And it’s the same for us isn’t it? We might think we have choices, but how much choice do we really have about the people we grow into and the bonds we form? I’m sure I can’t be the only person to have fallen in love with the wrong man…
I’m interested in what freedom means to you – is it about the right to speak your mind, to travel, to meet new people? Is it about money or work? Or is it simply about that hour after the kids are in bed when you can choose what you watch on the TV?
We also have to ask ourselves just how much freedom we actually want. Take the internet – it is all about freedom of communication, yet often it can feel overwhelming, stifling – a classic case of Too Much Information.
A fulfilling and interesting live is supposed to be about choice, but is choice always a Good Thing? It made me wonder… Could we, as human beings – as a society and as individuals – really handle being completely free?