Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Franzen, FREEDOM and the Era of the Blockbuster

You may have heard from, oh, I don't know, the Time Magazine cover or the Vogue profile or the rave reviews or the Picoult/Weiner spat or the author video where Franzen says he doesn't like author videos or the fact that the President of the United States was spotted with it..... anyway, you might have heard that Jonathan Franzen has a new novel out today, his first since The Corrections, and it's a pretty big deal.

I haven't yet read Freedom, but from the early reviews this novel is everything that our Internet-manic, high concept craving, supposedly dumbed down culture is not. It "[deconstructs] a family’s history to give us a wide-angled portrait of the country as it rumbled into the materialistic 1990s." (NY Times) It explores "the unresolved tensions, the messiness of emotion, of love and longing, that possesses even the most willfully ordinary of lives." (LA Times).

You can't exactly Tweet a summary of what this book is about. Whether you like Franzen's books or not (as you can probably tell: I'm a big fan), it's a novel that punches a gaping hole through the remarkably persistent idea that the publishing industry, and the culture as a whole, is only interested in high concept schlock and the lowest common denominator.

On the other hand, Freedom, in its bigness, in its You Must Read This To Be a Thinking Person in America, is already a novel of the times - the big books getting steadily bigger, accumulating hype with gravitational pull, and then there's everything else fighting for attention.

We seem to be a culture that is simultaneously craving books that fit our exact specifications at the same time that we want the shared experience of reading something, loving it, and sharing that experience with our friends (virtual and real life). Culture seems to be moving two contradictory ways - fracturing into ever-smaller niches at the same time that it's coalescing around a few massively popular books and movies. We normally think of the blockbusters in terms of James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, and Stephenie Meyer, but even in literary fiction you have your Freedoms and Oscar Waos.

And in a still further sign of the time, even though Franzen once said of his disdain for novels in e-book form, "Am I fetishizing ink and paper? Sure, and I'm fetishizing truth and integrity too," Freedom is available for sale as an e-book simultaneously with the hardcover.

What do you think? Will you be reading Freedom?






114 comments:

Nicole MacDonald said...

well.. not for a while anyway, I have a VERY long reading list ;p I guess I'll wait for some more reviews..

http://damselinadirtydress.blogspot.com

Giles Hash said...

Doesn't sound like the type of book I read... but I break out of those labels quite regularly. Who knows...I might just read it.

Leah Raeder said...

Disclaimer: I have yet to read the book. But after watching the FREEDOM media blitz saturate the literary sphere with dizzying ubiquity, I think there's a lot of truth in this comment from an Amazon reviewer:

"I feel this book has mostly been pressed on us rather than standing on its own merits. Indeed it really is a book for our times."

Author Jodi Picoult also has some pertinent comments on the book's media coverage, and its broader implications:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-pinter/jodi-picoult-jennifer-weiner-franzen_b_693143.html

treeoflife said...

Eventually maybe, but I sure won't go out of my way to read it in the near future.

There's a tiny rebellious side of me that purposely avoids books and movies and such with so much universal hype.

Now, your comment yesterday on Ulysses... that`s put it right up to the top of my to-read list. Those are the kinds of things that help me pick books.

abc said...

Well I'm on team Franzen. The Corrections is one of my favorite books and so you can put me in the Will Read column.

There is a lovely Charlie Rose interview with Franzen (before The Corrections) and David Foster Wallace. What nice dining companions they would make, although I'd probably be totally self conscious.

Anonymous said...

I loved loved loved the Corrections and I sure as heck will be reading Freedom! I don't mind the marketing juggernaut because it's all in the service of what I expect will be a genuinely wonderful, funny, thoughtful book. But there is something... oh, I don't know, juvenile or silly, maybe, about creating a lot of noise and frenzy around a serious book. It's like a judge showing up in court in a pink fur coat or something. Of course it gets our attention, but she's a judge. She'd get our attention anyway.

Nina said...

I must be one of those few people who have never heard of it. It could be because I never watch telly.

Anonymous said...

I was let down by The Corrections, so I'd have to hear a lot of good word-of-mouth recommendations from people I know and trust before I'd buy Freedom.

Daisy Harris said...

I probably won't read it, but I didn't read the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo either. My brother saw the movie, though. Said it was good.

I prefer trashy-cool to depth-for-the-masses any day.

Anonymous said...

I might give it a go. I'm a fan of big novels. I love Curtis Sittenfeld and Michael Chabon. However, I tried to read The Corrections and just couldn't get through it. I hated every single character.

I wonder how much peer pressure stabs into situations like these? People reading it because it the author was on the cover of Time and all that? Also, I wonder if it helps with the whole writer mythology if the author is considered an ass, as some are of Franzen?

D.G. Hudson said...

Will I read FREEDOM? Possibly, but then I usually avoid the 'bestsellers'. I'll do my research first and decide. Since you say you're a fan, Nathan, that gives me more reason to check it out.

So I'm a big Maybe, but I do love to read an author that promotes thinking. So I'll probably swing over to the Yes side.

swampfox said...

What was it about, again?

Locusts and Wild Honey said...

Loved THE CORRECTIONS.

But I find Jonathan Franzen, the person, a little hard to love.

My compromise? I'll read FREEDOM, but I'll do it e-book form.

(I'm teasing. That's not why. I read all books as ebooks.)

Mira said...

This reminded me of your post a couple of weeks back about the possible waning of lit fiction.

I think the culture tends to maintain something of a balance, so I'm not surprised that a lit fiction book is making a big splash.

For me - goodness no. I don't read things just because they are popular. I also don't read to think, I read to be entertained. And this may be terrible to say, but the book doesn't sound interesting to me. A 'wide-angled portrait of the materialistic 90s? Uh, no. Definitely not my thing.

Now, throw in some magic, a lost heir to the throne and a troll or two and I'm there. If that's high-concept schlock, then that's MY high-concept schlock. :)

one deal a day by Deidre said...

I have not yet read this book -but the title of the book sound me interesting,hope to read it quick time.

onefinemess said...

Nope.

Maybe I have some kind of brain damage that prevents me from being entertained by things grounded in reality? Either way, *YAWN*.

Rich Dailey said...

I give it fifteen minutes.

All I'm interested in is if there will be a Franzen/Oprah death match.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Rich

Jay said...

I think I will skip directly to making fun of everyone who loves the book. Much like the smug Larsson haters.

Seriously, I'll read it eventually but the interviews have given me pause for no other reason than I am growing tired of the breathless "allegory to the awful Bush years" meme. (It will be interesting to see how many novels will be written by writers working through their angst of the disappointing Obama years.) People, please just write and let the reader apply their experiences and figure things out on their own. If you feel like you have to spell it out it might not be as awesome as you think.

MJR said...

I'm not dying to read it (I liked, but didn't love, THE CORRECTIONS). Still, I enjoy reading the "big books" that people are talking about so I'll probably read it at some point--maybe take it out of the library etc.

Anonymous said...

No. I will not. I'm not saying he's not a brilliant writer (I'm not saying he is either, as I haven't read him) but there's too much evidence to support that he's full of himself and adheres to the literary fiction mentality of "I'm better than you because I wrote this and if you don't 'get it,' then you don't deserve to read my work in the first place."

I also don't read Orson Scott Card because he's a virulent homophobe. I can't bring myself to support the writing career of someone I find distasteful. Not their work, but the person themselves. So I won't say anything bad about their work but I won't be reading them either. I'm quite sure neither of them loses any sleep over the fact.

Ellen said...

Definitely. I'm a fan. I loved The Corrections and will probably love Freedom.

(But I still think Weiner and Picoult are right about the NY Times.)

ryan field said...

I read and liked The Corrections, so I'll be reading this one, too. And it will be at the top of my list.

But I think I'm going for print with this one.

Ariana Richards said...

I haven't read any of the reviews, only the reactions...which I will not comment on one way or the other. But your description of the book makse it sound exactly like the kind of story I enjoy (yes, really). Guess I have something new to pick up this weekend.

Julie20201 said...

I probably will not read this book. My reading tastes are very picky these days. A steady diet of science fiction and mysteries. It didn't sound like anybody up and got murdered, so probably not my thing.

Is it a bad thing that most books I read feature a gruesome murder or an over-thrown planetary government?

christine zoe palau said...

Just got my copy today! Can't wait for the train ride home. But not so sure about its jacket.

Marilyn Peake said...

This sounds like exactly the type of book I love to read. I've been following all the recent uproar about FREEDOM, and loved Franzen’s video. Your summary of where this fits into our culture and how it is the opposite of gimmick, however, has convinced me that I must have this book. Your statement, "...from the early reviews this novel is everything that our Internet-manic, high concept craving, supposedly dumbed down culture is not..." is what did it for me. I will be purchasing a copy of FREEDOM today. Thanks for another fascinating Blog post!

Right now, I’m reading a couple of other books, including TINKERS by Paul Harding, the indie-published book that won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction this year. How cool that, after numerous rejections from the traditional publishing industry and sticking the TINKERS manuscript in a drawer for three years, Paul Harding finally submitted it to an indie press and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. And how cool for Franzen that he can go through traditional publishing channels and have access to all the hoopla and advertising and promotion that goes with that. If we want the publishing industry to take on intelligent books and pour money into those types of books, then we have to buy those types of books and make it worth their while. I think I might just buy several copies of FREEDOM if I like it, to give as gifts. :)

I know several authors who have received personal phone calls and emails from literary agents, praising the high quality of their work, but telling them they can’t offer them a contract because they don’t think they can sell their literary manuscripts in today’s market. Hopefully, Franzen’s book, FREEDOM, will change that and give more talented authors the opportunity to succeed.

flibgibbet said...

Loved the Corrections, and am currently reading Oscar Wao (and loving every minute of it).

Too much hype does tend to taint the experience sometimes---makes me feel manipulated----but both of the above are/were certainly deserving of the high praise, especially from peers.

So yep, I look forward to reading Franzen's latest in hardback and adding it to my library.

Happy to read you're a Franzen fan, Nathan. In the best of all possible worlds, good books----high concept and "other" would share equal room on the shelves.

Anonymous said...

So, what would be the two-line "elevator" speech for this book?

Laurel said...

Every time Jennifer Weiner opens her mouth, she says something that makes me like her even more. I have only read one or two of her books but they are smart, funny, and engaging. I rather enjoy characters who don't wallow in angst ALL the time and plot threads that don't require a magnifying glass.

Melissa Gill said...

Oh man Nathan-

Frankly I do a lot of escapist reading, when I'm not reading in the genre that I write in. This sounds like anything but escapist. I work in a soul sucking job, that's way too much like real life. This book sounds like a big dose of downer.

Plus, I'm not crazy about the idea that "to be considered a thinking person in America you have to read this". That kind of overt manipulation turns me off. If I want to tout my intellectual prowess, I'll read Ulysses.

momnivore said...

I loved The Corrections, so I will be reading this book. Due to the crappy economy, I will probably read it at the bookstore, in spurts.

www.momnivoresdilemma.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

The problem in the United States is that we hate intellectuals, immediately assuming they think they’re better than us. Unfortunately, even if they have horrible personalities, it’s the intellectuals that move a country forward. Newsweek recently ranked countries for the best place to live. The United States – once considered the best place to live – only placed #11, not even making the top ten. In Education, the United States only came in at #26. Link to online interactive version of the article: The World’s Best Countries.

DCS said...

I read the first few pages on Amazon and my reaction was: quite a lot of backstory here and LOTS of telling. Guess there are rules for newbies and not literary lions. I mean, guidelines. There, that's the out. Silly me, thinking there are actually rules about the craft of writing.
Besides, I live in the Twin Cities and when I meet people who live on Ramsey Hill, drive Volvos and read the New York Times, I cross the street.

Anne R. Allen said...

The comments here are often as interesting as Nathan's posts.

Marilyn Peake, thanks for the positive thoughts on this subject.

Anon 1:46--I fear you are right and getting righter. There's anti-intellectual fervor going on in the US--fueled by sociopathic corporate/political pitchmen-- that's increasingly destructive. People who lie for a living thrive in an environment of nincompoops. I fear more nincompoopery to come.

Duluk said...

"in its You Must Read This To Be a Thinking Person in America,"

That's absurd and elitist. Sorry.

You, Nathan, personally may not believe it, but only echoing the hype the book is getting; however, if that is the hype it's getting - it's absurd and elitist. But apparently so is Franzen, so that isn't hard to believe.

John Jack said...

Freedom arrived at the library today. By the time I posted a reservation it was backed up to next summer.

Going on the title, promotional copy I've seen, and a general familiarity with Franzen's writing, I'd venture to say the high-concept premise is the complications of freedom in Western society. Now I've got to read it to test my theory.

T. Anne said...

I'm having Amazon send a sample to my Kindle. That's why the Kindle's so great. I'll report back if I like it.

Stu Pitt said...

In a couple weeks people will start donating copies of FREEDOM to my library's bookstore and I'll pick it up for $2. Should be a good read.

Regarding the book's hype, I'd bet there is a better book out at the moment being completely ignored. Time has a way of making publicity exercises like this look weird.

Marilyn Peake said...

I thought this was very generous and kind. Franzen has recommended four books written by other authors: Bestselling author Jonathan Franzen picks 4 new novels that you shouldn’t miss....

Mira said...

Annie R Allen,

Hey!

I am NOT a nincompoop.

I just don't like reading lit fiction. I'm still THINK about things. Just not while I'm reading. I think about things when I'm NOT reading.

I do agree that our corporate culture is bordering on the sociopathic, though. That was well put.

mumble, mumble, not a nincompoop, Im' not, mumble, mumble

Kelly Wittmann said...

I'm sure I'll eventually get around to it, but I'll wait and pick it up at the library. The hype doesn't really bother me so much, as long as it has the literary substance to back it up, which apparently it does.

Mira said...

Oh. I'm not sure you were talking to me.

I'm a bit defensive on this topic.

Mira said...

I just think that intelligence and taste in literature are not the same thing.

Let's not make is so personal. This is where literary sorts and commercial sorts really get into it.

Literary ficiton is one avenue to critical and exploratory thought.

But it is not the only avenue.

Okay, I've had my say. Thank you.

G said...

Probably not. I usually don't read novels that people are super ga-ga over (no Twilight, Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, to name just a few).

Perhaps in two or three years. The again, still haven't read Harry Potter yet nor seen the movies.

Anne R. Allen said...

Mira, I wasn't calling non-literature readers nincompoops!!! (I'm on team Jennifer Weiner myself.)

I was commenting on Anon 1:46's link showing the US is only #26 in the world in education.

Anita Saxena said...

After all the hype, I think I'm going to have to read it.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

No. While I have no personal beef with Mr. Franzen, I detest the holier than thou, elitist attitude and narcissism that permeate his work. I've tried to read his books, but he bores me to tears.

Chuck H. said...

No.

rachelslessonslearned said...

Im not interested in reading it for two reasons:
a) its not my genre (non-urban fantasy Fantasies).

b) Its being hyped. Hype turns me off--thats why I don't like the Superbowl, why I waited YEARS to see The Titanic and why I still to this day couldn't give two figs about Heath Ledger and The Dark Knight.

Any exhortation prefaced with an "OMG THIS IS SO EFFING AWESOME YOU HAVE GOT TO SEE/HEAR/READ/WEAR THIS!" is immediatly answered with an definite NO.

P.Shaw said...

Nathan, I love reading your posts.

Please tell me what you mean by "High Concept," as you refer to it in this post.

Maybe it's my cynicism, but I tend to think of high concept as a good thing, and what you allude to I would find a bad thing.

Nathan Bransford said...

p.shaw-

Are you referring to the post yesterday?

But basically, there's a difference between high concept and high concept shlock. High concept doesn't have to be a bad thing. But anyway I was just referring to a stereotype about culture.

marjoriekaye said...

Yes--it will be a while because of I have a lot on my plate that interferes with the attention a good book deserves. It took me awhile before I read The Corrections and though that was years ago, there are scenes and images I still remember. Alfred and Enid in particular resonated--I know many people like them. I became angry at the disconnect caused by Alfred's narcissism and Enid's retreat into the cruise fantasy and Christmas defined by the sad useless gifts she sends her grown children. So yes, I am very interested in reading Freedom.

The Red Angel said...

As I am a college student devoted to the brick-heavy books assigned by my lovely professors who believe we have all the time in the world to work on only their classes, I must say I shall not be reading this book any time soon. :/ It shall be added to my list of Books to Read, though. :D

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Cathi said...

My check goes in the No column. The 90's? It just doesn't sound interesting. I want a book to take me to another world, so to speak, not take me to one that I've already been to.

Amanda Sablan said...

I'll definitely at least give it a look-see, but only after I finish all else that's on my plate. :]

Mira said...

Anne- I know- I'm sorry! I over-reacted.

You made a very good point.

Phillywriter said...

Team Franzen
The Corrections had me with the fish in the pants chapter and the talking poop hallucinations. And that's not even talking about how great the book was.

Steppe said...

For they corporate promoters of this product and the early reader apparatchik to succeed in creating a stir, they must honestly believe in the stories authenticity as a literary tale, and also have a heartfelt feeling that it serves as a timely arrival to the market; that it serves as a mirror of the just recent past's who, what, when, where, why, and hows; of a lot of people's generalized internal mulling, musing and generalized thinking on recent culture and family. I'll read it when it cools off to avoid an accidental Vulcan Mind Meld in the Reader-Sphere.

OldBroad said...

Franzen is a GREAT author, and the Time Cover, the Weiner dust up and Obama buying an ARC created a lot of buzz. I thought THE CORRECTIONS was brilliant, and I'm looking forward to reading FREEDOM. The excerpt in the New Yorker was so good. Franzen is a writer who marries deep feeling (real feeling, not touchy-feeling) to craft and the result is superb.

Linda said...

You betcha I'm reading FREEDOM. I finished THE CORRECTIONS last week and was wowed. I'm hoping FREEDOM's as slow a read (slow as in slow cooking, slow to savor every wonderfully constructed sentence) as TC.

Is FREEDOM (and Tinkers and Oscar Wao and While the Great World Spins) a sign of changing tastes, though? Who knows. Maybe the economy is finally leading people to reflect on what is important -- family, values, the simple things. We'll see. Peace...

Kristi Helvig said...

I read The Corrections for my book club, so I'd read Freedom if it was selected for book club but probably not otherwise--although I do think he's a talented writer.

Tricia said...

In effort to keep literary fiction alive and well, I most certainly will read it. Though I didn't like The Corrections that doesn't mean I don't like the author.

Daisy Harris said...

Hey Mira-

Wanted to chime in that I'm with you about smart people liking to read entertaining books, and not just lit fic. You should've seen my SAT scores! Not to mention my scary-smartypants grades. And I like my books as fun and trashynas they come.

Deconstructing society's commercialism? Class structure in a post-colonial world? Analysis of suburban isolation and loss of identity? All sound like great backstory for some horny vampires to battle sexy werewolf aliens!

But a book that's heavy on purpose, so as to " enlighten" and make people "think.". Eh, I'm not so into that.

elfspirit333@gmail.com said...

I will eventually read it, if only to support intelligent fiction, but, like some others, I don't care for the juggernaut approach.

I also intend to check out the Jodi Picoult brouhaha.

Then again, I might forget both authors and read Ulysses.

wendy said...

It's funny, ironic and whatever, but I've only ever written genre fiction and (mostly) read it; but the few literary fiction novels I've read I've enjoyed as much or much more than the former. Genre tends to be too much same ol' same ol, while literary is refreshingly original and meaningful and not about something happening on a grand scale which becomes ironically boring - for me. I've hardly read anything for a few decades, though, so I'm not really qualified to judge; but that has been my impression. I go for genre because I like the fantastic and out-of-this-world, but it's not usually done well, while literary fiction about the every day world is mostly done well; it seems to me. It's the small moments in life - rather than the life-threatening escapade - that can be the most striking and memorable and what we're all more likely to experience. I hate that fantasy has become tied to sword and sorcery type things, because fantasy could lead the way in speculative fiction and be the front-runner in proposing different concepts, opinions and life-styles. Culture can't remain static. It must keep changing and evolving, so fantasy fiction is the ideal vehicle for introducing new concepts to inspire these changes. However this potential hasn't been mined to any great degree with the mostly repetitive and limited themes of the sword and sorcery focused stories.

I applaud Stephanie Meyer for introducing a new slant on the vampire genre. This is what all genre writers should be aiming for, I think.

In regards to Freedom, I'm not sure I will be reading it. I can't seem to get a handle on what it's about. I want to read stories I relate to and don't care how popular or brillant they might be.

Jan Markley said...

Yeah, sure, I'll read it. I love literary fiction. It can join the books on the heaving to-be-read shelf!

Anonymous said...

I didn't know there was a "You Must Read This To Be a Thinking Person in America" list. Since I wish to be a thinking American, I WILL READ THIS BOOK! And I will NOT stop at page 14! I WILL READ THE WHOLE THING!

Orange Slushie said...

i'll be reading it. big franzen fan. i don't think his books are flawless, but the bits that work are pure joy. try reading some of his non-fiction too - 'the discomfort zone' has some mind-blowing passages. he's writing about real estate agents and peanuts cartoons and it's riveting. don't ask me how he does it.

he writes extensively about the place in contemporary culture (admittedly 1990s culture, when the essays were written, but much of it still relevant today) for the 'big' literary novel, the social novel. worth reading if you're interested in this particular debate.

JDuncan said...

I wasn't really aware of Franzen until this book came out. A part of me has no desire to read it simply because of having it shoved in my face so to speak. So many other books I want to read, so if I do read it, it shall be a while down the road.

Ben Campbell said...

Freedom is a treasure we're all engaged in. Franzen might have a different take on it. I'm in.

Robena Grant said...

Yes. Definitely. I will read this and not because I'm being told to read it. I think it sounds interesting and I'd like to take a look at the "me generation" from a writer as profound as Franzen. I hope he doesn't disappoint me.

Just like my love of food (I have diverse tastes) my reading choices are also diverse. I can easily toss a Franzen into my mix. But first, I'm reading Jennifer Crusie's new stand alone, Maybe This Time. It's a nod to James' The Turn of the Screw. I can't wait to get my grubby little hands on it. today was the release day. Where oh where is UPS?

Lyra said...

For the naysayers, in Jonathan Franzen's interview in Time, he mentions how he has to compete with the television, movies, the internet, all of it. He goes into how he tried to make sure every page kept turning, not so unlike the aspirations of the genre writers. He knows what he needs to do, and was humble but not apologetic for how he does it. It seems that all of us should be looking for more depth in him than what could be gleaned from internet blogs regarding his character. You may not like his book, but as aspiring writers as most of us are, I would hope for more thought on the topic. "Sounds boring" or "he's egotistical" are just too simple. I've been reading this blog for so long, and you are all better than that.
So, I aspire to writing as great, as concise. But I wouldn't expect everyone to like it. Nor would I expect to be loved by all. The flat characters are the ones that aren't real, in art or in life.
And just to be clear, I love literary fiction. And I love a great fun story. I ordered Paranormalcy (Kiersten White), and Freedom. The former because I follow her blog, her voice is fantastic, and I read the sample happily surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I look to different things from each one, but I read. And I love to read. There is room for everyone. Don't sell yourself short by reiterating opinions that were stale when they were initially concepted.
I am writing a story. A story that I hope you will read and enjoy. And I imagine most of you hope for the same thing. I aspire to write something that is as good as what I like to read. I don't read genre, but there are some genre writers I adore. I watch foreign films, and Desperate Housewives of NJ. And I'm sure there is plenty there to trash me for.
I wish both Jonathan Franzen and Kiersten White the best, because to be a writer and survive you have indeed succeeded. I have enough sense to know that I can learn something from both of them. And I do not believe that my writing is better or I grow stronger, by cutting down the efforts of others.
It certainly doesn't make my writing any better.
Write your story, do your best, and hope that people who should see more to the story, do.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I enjoyed THE CORRECTIONS but didn't love it, so I'll probably read FREEDOM eventually, but there are some other books I want to get to first.

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dawnall said...

Probably because I read The Corrections in grad school, I have a bad taste in my mouth for his work so I'll pass.

Tim Riley said...

I'm definitely looking forward to reading it. I loved The Corrections. Franzen doesn't come off that well in the press, but the guy can write. Any serious writer needs to read his work.

Anonymous said...

Lyra said:
"Sounds boring" or "he's egotistical" are just too simple. I've been reading this blog for so long, and you are all better than that.

I agree. Thanks, Lyra! And I'd like to add something for everyone who's ever complained that the publishing houses don't publish enough intelligent books or the movie industry doesn't make enough intelligent movies. Movie studios base their decisions on whether or not to make a certain type of movie or hire a certain director again based on box office sales on opening weekends. Publishing houses base their decisions on whether or not to try publishing a certain kind of book again based on Amazon rank, number of weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List, and other such indicators of sales figures for certain types of books. If people don’t buy intelligent books because they can’t stand what advertisers do for those books, then the publishing houses will publish more dumbed-down books for which people love the advertising practically as much as the books. (And reading library or used copies doesn’t add anything at all to the sales figures for a book, so if you can afford it, it's helpful to buy a new copy of the book to add to its sales figures. It's a matter of voting with your dollar.)

Sam said...

Sounds awful. And the fact that the publishing industry seems to be pushing it is definitely not a good sign.

Anonymous said...

Not something for me. Not saying it's a bad book, but doesn't appeal to me.

However, having worked in a publishing warehouse, I'd love to see the skids and skids of hardcovers racing out there a few weeks ago to all the eager bookstores...

... and in 30 days skids and skids of returns coming back to restock the shelves with said book.

Sometimes the hype just doesn't overcome what the public really ends up buying.

;)

TracyM said...

I don't know, generally if somebody says YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK, then I become a sheep. But I also got burned this summer by "The Passage" so....

Yea, I'm going to read it.

On another note, if Picoult and Weiner don't stop calling it chick lit themselves, then nothing will ever change.

Malia Sutton said...

I'll order this one from the library and try to get through it like I tried to get through The Corrections. I did buy The Corrections. It was peer pressure. That year it was the book of choice here in NY and the best people carried it around to show everyone they were reading it.

I grown up a lot since then and I don't care what they see me reading anymore :)

Though I won't pay for it, I will give it a chance.

Anonymous said...

the hype has passed me by, might have something to do with not being US based. the cover, however, is stunning! love it.

Debra said...

I thought the prose in The Corrections was admirable, but I disliked all the characters and found the book very grim. Life's too short to read another grim book with dislikeable characters (which even some of the glowing reviews for Freedom are noting). So, no, I won't read it.

Dara said...

Meh, the subject doesn't really interest me. Maybe someday, if my book club chooses it as a "to read" (which they probably will, since they always like to read the books that are hyped about :P)

Alex said...

I read the first few pages and thought it was dreadful and dull. No thanks.

charlotteotter said...

Gosh, yes! Loved The Corrections and can't wait to love Freedom too.

Anonymous said...

i am reading Freedom. downloaded it to my Sony last night at 10.30 pm when all the bookstores were closed.

max said...

Frazen is overrated. The Corrections was a boring book. Sure, the guy can write but he doesn't grab me at all. Borges said never to read a book just because a critic told you to do so. Read it because you enjoy it.

max said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
max said...

Franzen is overrated. The Corrections was a boring book. Sure, the guy can write but he doesn't grab me at all. Borges said never to read a book just because a critic told you to do so. Read it because you enjoy it.

P.Shaw said...

Thanks, just looking to plug into your vernacular and viewpoint. Schlock for me needs the air quotes around "high."

Anonymous said...

Calling it the Picoult/Weiner "spat" is sexist.

DG said...

Nathan,

I too read the article on Franzen in Time and became interested in reading Freedom.

Last night I downloaded a trial of Freedom (the first 86 pages) to my ipad (less than three seconds, amazing).

The point of this is that as I began reading his new book a realized that I really liked his writing style. My next thought was not that I should download the whole ebook but rather that I wanted to buy the hardcover.

There's something so much more tangible about the physical book that helps me connect with the author.

Carolyn said...

I bought the digital version of Freedom on 8/30 and it downloaded to my iPhone on 8/31. I would NEVER have bought the hardback, by the way.

I have started reading and well, so far I'm not impressed at all. In fact, I'm offended and angry to yet another Big Important Book by a white male who utterly fails to say anything true about how women experience the world. I'm hoping my opinion will change as I continue reading.

Mira said...

That is a GORGEOUS cover.

Daisy Harris - thanks. You do sound like a smarty! :) And I clicked your link - your books look HOT. ;)

Nathan, I re-read your post, and having gotten over my assorted insecurities, I want to say that I liked your observation about the current culture. The internet is making the world a much smaller place. On this site alone, I've talked to people from halfway across the world on a regular, and casual, basis. And I think you're right that it's causing both lots of small niche groups to form, but also a much bigger group to form, so that the BIG news gets much, much BIGGER. What that means is yet to be seen, but it's very INTERESTING.

Fulton said...

One of the surest signs that a book is not worth reading is that the publishing industry tries to make an event out of its release.

It's analogous to the release of a Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Everyone knows it's awful so the men with deep pockets throw money at it until people try it out of curiosity just to see what all the (falsely-generated) buzz is about. Then it's deemed a success and the bland author/filmmaker gets a chance to make another piece of mediocre work. It's a sickening cycle.

There are exceptions, of course, but Franzen falls pretty squarely in the Michael Bay zone.

Kimber An said...

I only read books I like. I don't care if other people like it or think I'm not a thinking person because I don't like it.

I finally read Twilight, but only because my daughter made me. It was okay. She liked it and I'm happy for her. We both think Robert Pattinson was much cuter as Cedric Diggory though.

Hank Rickenbacher said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Bransford said...

hank-

Disagreement is fine, but personal attacks such as that don't have a place around these parts.

Scott said...

Nope, I'm allergic to pop-lit-fic Oprah-approved nonsense. Last one I tried was The Road, and I'm still trying to reacquire a good mood.

Anonymous said...

Scott, I hate Cormac McCarthy too but Franzen is excellent.

So for ONCE the publishing industry hypes a bona fide literary novel and everyone disses it because it's too hyped? That's a joke!

I will read it because he's a great writer and I loved all three of his other novels. Very few writers make me anxiously await their next work -- Franzen is one of them.

I say THANK GOD finally someone worthy of the hype is receiving it.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

OK. I've been discussing this issue with myself since reading it on your blog earlier today.

I'm glad to see you've already got another post up...I'll tackle angst next...

I might read FREEDOM. I guess I probably ought to, especially since you recommend Franzen.

But I gotta say--and I'm not gonna talk smack about any writer, especially one I haven't read--the excerpts from the "hype" reviews you gave us don't really inspire me.

Perhaps most reviewers, or it is hoped a large number of readers, came "of age" during the '90s. For those of us who did during the '70s, for instance, a reprise of dysfunctional family life during a period of near full-employment, economic excesses, and a general sense that life, for the most part, was better for many than it had ever been before--even or especially for returning Gulf War Veterans, who received the parades and welcome and thanks for their service after essentially a year compared to, say, those who spent two years with shorter life-expectancy in the jungles of Vietnam fighting a war they weren't even all that keen on, it seems like an attempt at writing a microcosm of the "history" lived by most readers, or potential readers.

And this: "the unresolved tensions, the messiness of emotion, of love and longing, that possesses even the most willfully ordinary of lives." (LA Times).

So. We're to read about willfully ordinary lives? Well, I did wonder years ago why all characters in novels (of a certain period) were all prep-school or Harvard or Princeton kids (The Last Convertible, an excellent read).

And then along came William Kennedy and "Ironweed."

Like I said, I probably will read it. Especially if someone else buys it for me and puts it in front of me.

I have no doubt Franzen is every bit as good as you say he is, since you say he is and I haven't, to date, read anything he's written.

But I looked at some of David Eggers stuff in the past, and have mentioned several times my problems with The Shipping News, and again I'm left with curiousity: why all the hype? If someone's writing is so breathtaking, can't someone just say: "here's another Joyce book," or "no one captures the contemporary scene with as gorgeous prose as..."

I mean, is the subject of the novel what makes it good? Or is it that the writer, being so good, makes the subject of the novel interesting to everyone?

And if you can't read it--like with Joyce, or Shakespeare, for some people--is that why people say it's great?

Ernest Hemingway wrote some great stuff. His themes are often buried below the surface of what the novel appears to be tackling, to be revealed only on re-reading or contemplation.

But he is eminently readable. He is "easy to get," at least on the surface.

Much as I appreciate Joyce, and for that matter Pound and cummings and Stein's manipulation of language as part of their art, I don't appreciate people manipulating language just to do it, especially if by such manipulation, I can't get anything out of reading it.

So. I look forward to finding a new literary voice. And if it's Franzen, I'll be happy for him.

And us.

But I'll be one of the first to not sell Jodi or any others, whose books haven't been touted as so "literary," short.

Mark said...

I recently opened The Corrections and immediately noted that Franzen opened with weather, a supposed no no. Of course anything can be done by some writers. As it is with the everything-must- be- in- a- scene meme. Not so in literary fiction, which if your leaf through the pages is a dense narrative, both external and internal with scant snippets of recalled dialogue, if that. What his books do is show a snapshot of the culture at a point in history, and of course, showcase the author's political views. You best not try that in a genre novel.

Mark said...

Ever read Jane Smiley's Ten Days in the Hills? What a fun read, or listen in my case, especially if you happen to have Hollywood experience and live down here. The book is comic, literary, a personal political platform, and just crazy fun. Like the Franzen novels, it's a cultural snapshot at a historical point in time. I'm going with Jane on the fun though. He doesn't strike me as fun.

Annikka Woods said...

I strongly doubt I'll read it. Whenever I see this much hype for a book I run screaming from it. Not literally, of course, though I'm sure I'd amuse my husband and terrify the other browsers at B&N or Borders if I did that. I remember skimming through Franzen's last book and thinking, "This guy's lame."

That opinion hasn't changed much.

Hank Rickenbacher said...

Terin,

Franzen may write literary fiction, but his prose is pretty straightforward - none of Joyce's linguistic gymnastics to be found. He's also less willfully obscure than Hemingway. So I wouldn't let some of the stigmas of so-called "lit fiction" preclude you from reading Freedom.

Not to say you're guaranteed to love it, but just so you're aware that Franzen is in fact very "readable".

Kathy said...

I will definitely read it. But I'll get it from the library.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Hank: thanks.
I'll give him a try.

@cluttery said...

In the words of the Clairol Herbal Essences shampoo ad of the 90s:

Yes! Yes! Yes!

stacy said...

I've come to a point in my life where I value kindness over talent and intellect. Some people may believe it's okay for those qualities to be mutually exclusive in a writer, but I don't. I don't think this makes me anti-intellectual. I work hard for what little money I earn and I'm not parting with it to spend time with a writer who has—so far, at least—shown he has a one-star personality. There are plenty of other writers—Cormac McCarthy comes to mind—with whom I can spend time and from whom I can learn.

J. T. Shea said...

So, we must read FREEDOM to be thinking people in America? Amazing how the vast majority seem to think well enough without reading FREEDOM, or anything by Mr. Franzen. Like other commenters, the more I hear I must read something, the less inclined I am to do so.

Nina, you're not alone. Most of the human race will never hear of Mr. Franzen.

Mira, magic, lost princes and trolls? YES! Imagine the mash-ups! THE CORRECTIONS AND THE FARM BOY WHO SAVED THE UNIVERSE! FREEDOM AND THE MATERIALISTIC TROLLS FROM THE NINETIES! You have to mumble them, of course...

Fulton, hype might get an awful movie a good opening weekend, but no more. Bay/Bruckheimer movies always do better than that.

abc said...

fyi, Nathan (and speaking of angst) Franzen was interviewed by Terry Gross today on Fresh Air and he talked about using his writing to work through psychological stuff (at least I think he did--he's waaaay smart and I'm not). Audio isn't up last I looked, but I bet it will be soon.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129747555

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