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Jonathan Franzen on literature as the key to a deeper life

From an interview with Franzen by Jianan Qian in The Millions:

TM: You also mentioned on a number of occasions that literature saved you. Could you elaborate on the notion of literary salvation?

JF: What would I have meant by that? I don’t think it literally saved my life.

TM: I suppose it’s not that we take refuge in the beauty of literature?

JF: Not so much. The moment I come back to is when I was 21 and went home to St. Louis. I hadn’t spent a holiday with my family for two years, and suddenly the literature I’d been reading at college made sense. It wasn’t just something you studied at school. It was a way to understand what was happening in real life. I could suddenly see the levels of meaning in a simple sentence that my mother uttered. I’d been listening to her all my life, but now I could construct a story about where the words were coming from. I could read the coded messages, and I’d been given that key by reading literature. Did it “save” me? No, but it gave me a way forward. Part of it was trying to be a writer myself, because I was grateful to the authors who’d given me the key and I wanted to give something back. But it was also a way of being in the world—of being attentive to the hidden levels, of not being so quick to judge other people. Maybe that’s what I meant by being saved.

More: “Giving Voice to Shame and Fear: The Millions Interviews Jonathan Franzen