"We may freak out globally, but we suffer locally." -- Jonathan Franzen
Jonathan Franzen (born August 17, 1959) is an American novelist and essayist. His third novel, The Corrections (2001), a sprawling, satirical family drama, drew widespread critical acclaim, earned Franzen a National Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His most recent novel is Freedom, published in August 2010.
Franzen writes for The New Yorker magazine. He is also known for his 1996 Harper's essay "Perchance to Dream" bemoaning the state of literature, and for the 2001 controversy surrounding the selection of The Corrections for Oprah Winfrey's book club. In 2010, he attracted further attention while on a visit to London when a literary event was stormed and his spectacles were whisked from his face, a ransom note for $100,000 deposited and a police chase initiated through the city.
"And Silence of the Lambs is a really smart book.""But as far as being popular, yeah, I think Dave Barry is really funny.""I feel as if I'm clearly part of a trend among writers who take themselves seriously - and I confess to taking myself as seriously as the next writer.""I hate that word dysfunction.""I look at my father, who was in many ways an unhappy person, but who, not long before he got sick, said that the greatest source of satisfaction in his life had been going to work in the company of other workers.""I really enjoy doing both, but I didn't write nonfiction until 1994.""I used to think it was hard to write, and I still find the process more or less unpleasant, but if I know what I'm doing it rattles along, then the rewrite whips it into shape rather quickly.""I voluntarily inflicted a certain level of insanity on myself.""I was a late child from my parents, so I grew up surrounded by people a lot older than me. I think even when I was 21, I felt like I was a 70-year-old man.""I was about 13, in some ways, when I wrote the first book. Approximately 18 when I wrote the second.""I was unwise enough to actually mention this in public a few times, and in fact to point out that there were two versions of the book now. One of them had somebody else's name on the cover, one had my name on the cover.""I wrote two plotted books, got some of the fundamentals of storytelling down, then... it's sort of like taking the training wheels off, trying to write a book that's fun in the same way without relying on quite such mechanical or external beats.""If you're interested in how people behave, if you're interested in the way they talk about themselves, the way the conceive of themselves, it's very hard to ignore drugs nowadays, because that is so much part of the conversation.""It seems to me self-evident that if you have a life, things happen in it, and certain things do change; certain things end. People you know die.""It's just a matter of writing the kind of book I enjoy reading. Something better be happening at the beginning, and then on every page after, or I get irritated.""It's not surprising to see in my own work, looking back, and in the work of some of my peers, an attention to family. It's nice to write a book that does tend toward significance and meaning, and where else are you sure of finding it?""It's very liberating for me to realize that I don't have to step up to the plate with a plot that involves the U.N. Security Council.""'s one of the perversities of the age: I'm embarrassed by its success, but I'm happy it's selling.""The Mekons were kind of like the background music of my life.""The real pleasure in writing this, for me, was discovering how little you need.""When I finally gave up any hope of doing anything representative of the American family, I actually seemed to have tapped into other people's weirdness in that way."
Franzen was born in Western Springs, Illinois, raised in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, and educated at Swarthmore College. He also studied on a Fulbright Scholarship at Freie Universität Berlin in Berlin. From this experience, he speaks fluent German, but he is reluctant to do so publicly. He lives part of the year on the Upper East Side of New York City and part in Boulder Creek, California.
The Twenty-Seventh City, published in 1988, is set in Franzen's hometown, St. Louis, and deals with the city's fall from grace, St. Louis having been the "fourth city" in the 1870s. This sprawling novel was warmly received and established Franzen as an author to watch.
Strong Motion (1992) focuses on a dysfunctional family, the Hollands, and uses seismic events on the American East Coast as a metaphor for the quakes that occur in family life.
Franzen's The Corrections, a novel of social criticism, garnered considerable critical acclaim in the United States, winning both the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. The novel was also on the short list for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and was named a finalist for the 2002 PEN /Faulkner Award. A finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, it lost to Empire Falls by Richard Russo.
In September 2001, The Corrections was selected for Oprah Winfrey's book club. Franzen initially participated in the selection, sitting down for a lengthy interview with Oprah and appearing in B-roll footage in his hometown of St. Louis (described in an essay in How To Be Alone entitled "Meet Me In St. Louis"). In October 2001, however, The Oregonian printed an article in which Franzen expressed unease with the selection. In an interview on National Public Radio's Fresh Air, he expressed his worry that the Oprah logo on the cover dissuaded men from reading the book:
So much of reading is sustained in this country, I think, by the fact that women read while men are off golfing or watching football on TV or playing with their flight simulator or whatever. I worry ... I'm sorry that it's, uh ... I had some hope of actually reaching a male audience and I've heard more than one reader in signing lines now at bookstores say "If I hadn't heard you, I would have been put off by the fact that it is an Oprah pick. I figure those books are for women. I would never touch it." Those are male readers speaking. I see this as my book, my creation.
Soon afterward, Franzen's invitation to appear on Oprah's show was rescinded. Winfrey announced, "Jonathan Franzen will not be on the Oprah Winfrey show because he is seemingly uncomfortable and conflicted about being chosen as a book club selection. It is never my intention to make anyone uncomfortable or cause anyone conflict. We have decided to skip the dinner and we're moving on to the next book."
These events gained Franzen and his novel widespread media attention. The Corrections soon became one of the decade's best-selling works of literary fiction. At the National Book Award ceremony, Franzen said "I'd also like to thank Oprah Winfrey for her enthusiasm and advocacy on behalf of The Corrections."
Following the success of The Corrections and the publication of The Discomfort Zone and How To Be Alone, Franzen began work on his next novel. In the interim, he published two short stories in The New Yorker: "Breakup Stories", published November 8, 2004, concerned the disintegration of four relationships; and "Two's Company", published May 23, 2005, concerned a couple who write for TV, then split up.
On June 8, 2009, Franzen published an extract from Freedom, his novel in progress, in The New Yorker. The extract, titled "Good Neighbors", concerned the trials and tribulations of a couple in St. Paul, Minnesota. On May 31, 2010, a second extract-titled "Agreeable"-was published, also in The New Yorker.
On October 16, 2009, Franzen made an appearance alongside David Bezmozgis at the New Yorker Festival at the Cedar Lake Theatre, reading a portion of his forthcoming novel. Sam Allard, writing for North By Northwestern about the event, said that the "...material from his new (reportedly massive) novel" was "as buoyant and compelling as ever" and "marked by his familiar undercurrent of tragedy". Franzen read "an extended clip from the second chapter."
On September 9, 2010, Franzen appeared on Fresh Air to discuss Freedom in the wake of its release. Franzen has drawn what he describes as a "feminist critique" for the attention that male authors receive over female authors...a critique he supports. Franzen also discussed his friendship with David Foster Wallace and the impact of Wallace's suicide on his writing process.
While promoting the book Franzen became the first American author to appear on the cover of Time magazine since Stephen King did so in 2000. He discussed the implications of the Time coverage, and the reasoning behind the title of Freedom in an interview in Manchester, England in October 2010.
Since The Corrections Franzen has published How to Be Alone (2002), a collection of essays including "Perchance To Dream", and The Discomfort Zone (2006), a memoir. How To Be Alone is essentially an apologia for reading, articulating Franzen's uncomfortable relationship with the place of fiction in contemporary society. It also probes the influence of his childhood and adolescence on his creative life, which is then further explored in The Discomfort Zone.
In September 2007, Franzen's translation of Frank Wedekind's play Spring Awakening () was published. In his introduction, Franzen describes the Broadway musical version as "insipid" and "overpraised." In an interview with New York magazine, Franzen stated that he had in fact made the translation for Swarthmore College's theater department for $50 in 1986 and that it had sat in a drawer for 20 years since. After the Broadway show stirred up so much interest, Franzen said he was inspired to publish it because "I knew it was a good translation, better than anything else out there."
On September 17, 2010 Oprah Winfrey announced that Jonathan Franzen's Freedom would be an Oprah book club selection, the first of the last season of the Oprah Winfrey Show.
In February 2010, Franzen (along with writers including Richard Ford, Zadie Smith and Anne Enright) was asked by The Guardian to contribute what he believed were ten serious rules to abide by for aspiring writers. Franzen's rules ran as follows:
The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.
Never use the word "then" as a conjunction — we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.
Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than " The Metamorphosis ".
You see more sitting still than chasing after.
It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction (the TIME magazine cover story detailed how Franzen physically disables the Net portal on his writing laptop).
Franzen made an appearance on Charlie Rose in 1996 with fellow authors David Foster Wallace and Mark Leyner to discuss the effects of electronic media on the role of fiction in society.
Franzen guest starred alongside Michael Chabon, Tom Wolfe, and Gore Vidal in the Simpsons episode "Moe'N'a Lisa", which first aired 19 November 2006. In the episode, he is depicted fighting over literary influences with his real-life friend Chabon.