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English Muse: Is Jonathan Franzen all that?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Is Jonathan Franzen all that?


The Franzen frenzy started a month ago when TIME magazine put the author on its cover and labeled him the "Great American Novelist." I finally have a copy of his new book, Freedom. (My reading this weekend). I'm anxious to see if he's really all that.

Any thoughts?

(Illustration above by Joe Ciardiello for Barnes and Noble Review.)

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Blogger Giulia said...

I'm in the midst of (perhaps) changing my opinion. I don't even know that I can keep all the chatter out when I finally get to read it. I bought The Corrections the day it was published (9 years ago, shockingly somehow). My then-boyfriend novelist was about to pop from simultaneous hate/love for Franzen. It was the same everywhere.

I just kept my mouth shut & read it. While I remember laughing & cringing in all the "right" places...apparently I was not affected enough to reread it. And that is usually what I look for.

I object to the vilification of him, but as the savior of all things literary. Wow. I have said I fear for his mental health at this point. Seriously.

Reading his essays & ephemera these last years in the NYorker, quite often I find a whining, irritating tone that has me arguing with him. But not in a good way. I ask myself, well why do you keep reading him then? I dunno. I might stop.

I await your thoughts...but I think your title is an excellent one. Who can be all that?

Cheers & good to see you back.

September 24, 2010 at 8:51 AM  
Blogger Hope said...

I am really interested in what you think of this book...I have been on the verge of buying it for months, and now it's an Oprah's book club book? Please share your thoughts!

September 24, 2010 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger Sofia said...

I think Franzen is a good and interesting writer, who has received outsized attention simply because so few authors of "literary fiction" these days write readable narratives about big topics. That's not his fault, but it means that some people bring a lot of expectations to his work they're not able to satisfy.

He probably makes it worse by being such a clever player on the literary scene, where his success is bound to make him a target. The best liked people in that world tend to be "neglected" writers or admirable commercial failures. In some ways, that makes Franzen's treatment here very much like that Martin Amis gets in England. (I prefer Amis.)

September 24, 2010 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger Siubhan said...

I'm definitely curious - I just downloaded it as an audiobook, so I'll soon see! I'll be very interested to hear what you think of it.

September 24, 2010 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger Kristin Hjellegjerde said...

I have gotten hold of a copy myself and I can't wait to read it. My girlfriend is already raving about it:)

September 24, 2010 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger AlpHa Buttonpusher said...

Is it just me or have things changed since I last visited (which was yesterday)?

September 24, 2010 at 12:50 PM  
Blogger Soné said...

love your blog so beautiful!

thanks for sharing


September 24, 2010 at 2:16 PM  
OpenID P. said...

I'm ashamed to admit that I've never read his novels, but I kind of love him for blowing off Oprah.

September 24, 2010 at 3:51 PM  
Blogger Daydream Lily said...

this is unrelated to the post but.... the new banner looks great!! and love the little sidebar blurb.

my weekend reading: Zadie Smith White Teeth. Although I still havent finished her On Beauty.


September 24, 2010 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

I'm reading his book, "The Corrections" right now for a book club I'm in and I think it's pretty great!

September 24, 2010 at 5:21 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

Ha Liss! We've both been reading On Beauty for about a year now!

September 24, 2010 at 5:39 PM  
Blogger Daydream Lily said...

haha I know!! I keep reading a bit then forget to read for awhile. Its not that I'm not enjoying the book, cause I am...I think its the detailed writing style that's making it such a slow read.

September 24, 2010 at 8:49 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

I know what you mean about Z. Smith! Franzen's prose really moves along, which is such a relief. I hope he doesnt get caught up with his new title and start writing like richard ford.

September 24, 2010 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger Freja Wewer Hjernøe said...

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I've visited your lovely blog before, and i find it very inspiring!
Take a look at my blog too, and follow me back if you want!



September 25, 2010 at 5:50 AM  
Blogger Giulia said...

Me again. In a semi-related thingy. (Not enough coffee yet...urgh.) I just read the back & forth about Zadie Smith. Do any of you read Maitresse? It's an excellent blog by Lauren Elkind in Paris (though I think she's teaching in NYC right now). Anyway, here's her post on how some of us are cheesed off (that's the technical term, btw) about ZS regular gig as columnist. There's a conflict. Anyway, here's the post link & I hope some of you will visit Lauren's blog.

Literary critics vs fiction writers

Cheers all...

September 25, 2010 at 7:02 AM  
Blogger Tina said...

Thank you Giulia to visit now...

September 25, 2010 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger Maggie May said...

Re zadie smith, i LOVED On Beauty and it was her only novel i really loved. i found it gorgeously rich with human life detail.

re Franzen, i would echo Sophia's comment. well said. and another commenter who said she'd liked The Corrections but hadn't gone back to read it- that's me too. it was good, better than most novels, but not gobsmacking good like when i read The World According To Garp.

i'm looking forward to reading Freedom and seeing what i think

great convo Tina :)

September 25, 2010 at 12:45 PM  
Blogger H. Gillham said...

I don't know about all the hype about Franzen -- the last thing I paid attention to was his Oprah shrug... but I have had a copy of The Corrections for a long time, and I have yet to crack the binding.

I don't know why I put it off.

I read a piece of short fiction by him that I liked -- it was a tribute to his father or something. It was well-written.

I'm reading Robert Lewis Taylor's The Travels of Jamie McPheeters -- it's a 1958 Pulitzer Prize winner. I've never read it.

Love the new look here...


September 30, 2010 at 1:01 PM  
Blogger Victoria said...

wow great comments, great layout, great books! White Teeth is one of my favourite books ever and I loved The Corrections, although not really in a 'great american novelist' kind of way.

I have just bought a random 'uncorrected proof' copy of Freedom from my local second hand bookstore and would be interested to see how it compares to the final edited version - can't wait to hear your thoughts!

October 2, 2010 at 3:35 PM  

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