Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jonathan Franzen, "Freedom"

I have not read any of Franzen's books, and to be honest I haven't had any interest in him before now. It's not that I found anything about him or his writing particularly off-putting; it's more that I was ignorant of his work and his was just another name floating around out there. Also, admittedly, I thought The Corrections was about prison. Really.

But all the publicity surrounding Franzen's newest novel, Freedom, edged me on to read the first chapter of the book, and you can do the same if you poke around online and have a look for it (I used the "look inside" feature, myself).

David Shields ("author" of a collection of plagiarism called Reality Hunger) has, apparently, said unkind things about Franzen's writing, calling it old-fashioned and behind-the-times and irrelevant. Of course, what David Shields doesn't know about literature is Almost Everything There Is To Know About Literature, and why people even talk to him is a question for which I haven't yet found a good answer. This paragraph adds nothing to my essay; it's just an excuse to bash Mr. Shields, which is something people who understand and read fiction should do often. Take that, Shields.

Anyway, I read the first chapter of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom last night, and now I want to read the whole book. The voice of the prose and the tone Franzen takes with his characters reminded me, I realized, of everything I enjoy about J. D. Salinger. Which is high praise coming from me. So my advice, for what it's worth, is that you should at least go read the first chapter of this book and see what you think.


  1. I try not to let buzz sway my opinion of a book either for or against. But sometimes it's hard to ignore all that buzzing. I plan to evenually check out Franzen's book, but gosh, only once the buzz is out of my ears.

  2. It's interesting that people seem to think this book is getting overwhelming press. That's only true if you compare it to other literary fiction novels; if you think about the hype surrounding books by Steig Larson or J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or Dan Brown, Franzen is still essentially invisible. The cover of Time is less important that the cover of People or whatever, and certainly people didn't stand in line around the block at midnight waiting to buy Freedom the minute it was put on sale.

    But it does look like it might be a good book.

  3. Actually, I agree those authors you named are overly buzzed, and I don't want to hear anything else about them either (ha!).

    Seriously though, I remember when the Potter books first came out, I ran the other way because I was sick of hearing about them. Evenually I read them and liked them. Same with another author who name I'm not going to trash, but I read and hated her popular books.

    I don't mind buzz around books and I think it's good to see a literary novel get a little attention. I wonder if it's just because we as writers read so much publishing news that we think something is a buzz-overkill, so to speak.

    Here's your e-cookie by the way:

  4. That IS some mighty high praise! I'll have to check this one out. Thanks.

    I love the gratuitous paragraph... :)

  5. Crimey: You might have a point that outside the world of writers, this might not be big news.

    Hey, chocolate chip! My favorite!

    Ivana: Well, I've only read the first chapter, but it made me want to keep reading. So that's good!

    I should go easier on Shields, I really hate Reality Hunger. It's anti-art and doesn't even know it.

  6. I'd been meaning to check his writing out. Your post pushed me to reading whatever was available of the first chapter on Amazon and if that is any indication of the rest of the book, all the hype seems justified. I need to get my hands on this book (There are 68 holds (!!!) on this book at my local library). I loved how 'small' (yet interesting) his observations were. And funny!

  7. and you kind of look like Jonathan Franzen.

  8. I've been reading a lot about him and the book lately too. And, like you, I had never made plans to read The Corrections. I thought it was about an insane asylum. But, I will read either The Corrections or Freedom. I'm excited to.

  9. Lavanya: Yeah, it's funny! I like it when an author has enough compassion to poke fun at his characters without being cruel. I think this weekend I'll go buy the book at my favorite pluckly local independent bookstore.

    DomeyM: Maybe I am Franzen, and I set up this blog to shill for Freedom. You never know.

    DMalasarn: The Corrections is a weird, misleading title. I thought Freedom was going to be about 9/11. I'm happy to find I was wrong in both cases.

    I finished the Gordimer book last night. I think it's one of those books that doesn't seem to add up to something at the time of reading, but 5 or 10 or 15 years from now, I'll still be thinking about it and specific images of Gordimer's will come to mind unbidden. Which is, you know, good.