Ask Umbra’s Book Club: Does caring about the environment make you crazy?
Welcome to our conversation about Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom. How are you feeling after page 562? I felt like rereading it as soon as I got to the end. I love that it’s bringing the themes of overpopulation, biodiversity, consumerism, and mountaintop-removal mining to a mass audience.
Speaking of a mass audience, Franzen made a much-anticipated appearance on Oprah’s show on Monday. (You can watch an after-the-show audience Q&A.) Unfortunately, Oprah didn’t talk about any of the book’s green themes.
But Grist’s Amanda Little did! Franzen gave her an exclusive interview about the environmental aspects of his book — check it out. And watch this video clip from their conversation:
Backstory for those of you who haven’t finished the book yet: One of the main characters, Walter Berglund, is an avid environmentalist who pours himself into campaigns to save a rare bird, the cerulean warbler, and raise awareness about overpopulation. His efforts climax with a YouTube-worthy public rant in which he yells, “We are a cancer on the planet!” All the while, his life and marriage are falling apart.
In your experience, does caring about a big, overwhelming set of problems like those facing the environment lead to occasional emotional dysfunction? Have you ever had a case of “radical misanthropy” like Franzen? If so, what have you done to cure it?
Share your thoughts in the comments below. Feel free to join in even if you haven’t read the book yet.
And stay tuned: We’ll be rolling out more Book Club posts with video clips from our interview with Franzen. (Don’t forget to read the full interview.) Come back tomorrow for more conversation!