How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Emperor Penguin

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The End of the End of the Earth: Essays

Jonathan Franzen

Hardcover, 241 pages

Read the title essay here.I should confess two things up-front:

1) I’ve never finished a Franzen novel.

2) I’m not a bird person.

The crazy birds on Franzen’s latest essay collection caught my eye while perusing at A Cappella Books. I grabbed the book without a second thought. I find that most people are polarized by Franzen: You like him? His characters are so cold? He’s not even online…

My earliest memories of Franzen’s work go back to the late 90’s. I remember picking up How to Be Alone at my aunt and uncle’s house. My teen brain wasn’t prepared for an entire essay collection, but I did read the first essay about Franzen’s father’s Alzheimers. And then there was Farther Away. These collections have been wells of inspiration over the years. I love what Franzen says about writing, the process, reasons to get out of bed in the morning.

Which brings me around to The End of the End of the Earth. The title essay is a brilliant mash-up of memoir, travelogue, and future casting. I agree with Franzen: climate change isn’t going to slow down. The real challenge: How do we humanely deal with this reality? Franzen isn’t giving up, just facing the facts. If humans can strip the earth of resources, we will. It’s that simple.

I still don’t care about birds as much as Franzen, but his essay both encouraged and challenged me. The world’s climate is in danger, but that doesn’t mean we stop caring about each other.