More Franzen Flexing

Page 103. Clem’s academic performance is plummeting thanks to his middle of college sexual awakening. Which, of course, was Sharon’s fault.

“He’d return to school with a strict plan for himself. He would see Sharon only two evenings a week, and not stay over at her house at all, and he would study ten hours every day and try to ace every one of his finals and term papers. If he ran the table with A-pluses, he could still keep his GPA above 3.5—the figure which, though basically arbitrary, was his last plausible defense against the action he would otherwise be called upon to take.*

His plan was sensible but not, it turned out, achievable. When he stopped by Sharon’s house, it was as if they’d been apart for five months, not five days. He had a thousand things to tell her, and as soon as he took down her corduroys it seemed mean and silly to have worried about their height difference. Not until he returned to his room, the following afternoon, did he lament his lack of willpower. He recalibrated his plan, assigning himself eleven hours of daily study, and stuck to this schedule until Friday, when he treated himself to another evening with Sharon. By the time he left her, on Sunday afternoon, he would have had to study fifteen hours a day to make the numbers work.”

*enlist and go fight in Vietnam

Be Less Lonely

By making time to read. Every day. And not just periodicals, blogs, email messages, Twitter feeds, and Facebook updates. Fiction and non-fiction books.

Bookish people are less lonely because they have an endless supply of friends. With the exception of some especially good long running series, television and film characters usually don’t rise to the same level of friendship as literary ones.

Cleo, an eighth grader at a middle school I’ve been helping out at this year, figured this out about eight years ago. She reads incessantly. Averaging about a book a day. Substantive books typically read by high schoolers. And then she reviews them on her blog, Cleo’s Literary Reviews. Apart from sometimes reading in classes she’s not supposed to, I have no idea how she does it.

Our negative preconceived notions of bookworms as socially stunted people ill-prepared for the “real world” are anachronistic. Cleo likes her school and gets along great with her classmates. She appears imminently happy and has a promising future in the “real world”. Cleo will impress with her vocabulary, imagination, and knowledge of the world.

But the longest lasting gift of reading doesn’t have anything to do with competing in the global economy. Most importantly, Cleo’s happiness won’t fluctuate as wildly with the vagaries of “real life” relationships because she’ll always be buffeted by a steady stream of interesting people, created by an endless army of imaginative authors.