OK book nerds, I know we’re all aware of Jonathan Franzen’s rise to critical darling with his newest novel, Freedom. Notoriously fickle New York Times book review writer, Michiko Kakutani, is raving over Franzen, lauding “his impressive literary toolkit…and his ability to throw open a big, Updikean picture window on American middle-class life.” Updikean…nice. Then there’s Sam Tanenhaus, also from the New York Times, who is calling Freedom a “masterpiece of American fiction.” Two reviews in the New York Times? High praise indeed. And let’s not forget Franzen’s bespeckled mug on the cover of Time magazine, where the editors have proclaimed him the long-lost “Great American Novelist.” Thank GOD. I was seriously worried that we Americans were slipping in the greatness department. Thanks, Franzen, for picking up the slack.
Sounds great, but oh wait, here’s comes the backlash. Media watchers are calling the NYT out on all the Franzen love, suggesting the faintest whiff of elitism. Twitter has been abuzz with @emperorfranzen and his ridiculous pronouncements, all the while calling himself “the dark side of Oprah’s couch.” And most notably, chick-lit superstars Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner have dived into the fray, calling shenanigans on what they see as the literary elite receiving special treatment from the critics, while the poor chick-lit writers are left to languish in the desert of bestseller-dom. In fact, in Jason Pinter’s interview with the two authors for the Huffington Post today, the two ladies are shouting sexism, pointing out that when a man writes about American family life, he wins the National Book Award. When a woman does it, her book gets a glossy pink cover. As for my Twitter followees, I watched an interesting debate between Ms. Weiner herself, @readandbreathe and @RonHogan this afternoon, in which @readandbreathe defended the reviewers, claiming literary fiction needs the critical attention to sell books. Weiner (@jenniferweiner) got angry and fought back with plenty of snark, righteously defending woman writers of commercial fiction from big bad wolves, the Pulitzer committee, and other snobby white men.
Wow. That’s a lot of fighting over Jonathan Franzen. If you’ll remember, I read and reviewed Franzen’s first novel, The Corrections, and I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to assume Freedom will be much different. At least in theme and tone. I mean, I haven’t read Freedom but I think this will still be relevant:
I can say that Franzen’s tone definitely struck me as…strained. I don’t want to go so far as to say he’s elitist, but it’s clear the book was written by a highly educated young man, well aware of his literary chops. It’s also clear he’s pulled out all the stops with his attempt at literary realism, and is intent on showing off his skills. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—Franzen is an excellent writer, and I enjoyed reading him. But he also has a tendency to go on at times; at worst, he sounds like he’s trying too hard.
However, this isn’t the first time Franzen has been branded as an elitist. On that supremely redundant note, I suggest everyone get over themselves, just give Franzen the damn National Book Award or whatever else he wants to decorate his mantle, and move on.
Now that’s all I’m going to say on Jonathan Franzen, at least until I read Freedom (which, to be honest, won’t be for a long while). I do, however, have quite a bit to say on chick-lit and the Mexican standoff between commercial and literary fiction. Being a literary fiction kind of gal, you can imagine on which side I fall, however I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time. I still need to put my thoughts into words, and so be ready for a post on that next Wednesday.
Another book that I probably won’t be reading anytime soon is Mockingjay, the latest release by Suzanne Collins and the third and final chapter in the Hunger Games trilogy. As you might also remember, I reviewed Hunger Games last October, giving it fairly high marks. However, I did then go on to read the summary of Catching Fire, and not finding it very interesting and wanting to move on from YA, I lost interest in the series pretty quickly. I am amazed at the number of adults who are going BANANAS over Mockingjay‘s release, especially since it’s a young adult title. However, at least the soccer moms aren’t reading Twilight anymore, and Suzanne Collins isn’t as offensive as Stephanie Meyers. So OK. I can deal.
So be warned, Paperback Fool readers: if you expect this reader to blindly follow the trends wherever they may roam, you are mistaken. Can you expect a fair amount of snark when you visit my humble blog? Of course. Should you expect what’s HOT and NEW and FRESH? No. But that’s OK, because you love me anyway, right….?