Why Jonathan Franzen Will Never Write Another Book Worth Reading

Last week, I called Franzen at his Manhattan home, and we talked about the future of the novel. Franzen has said in past interviews that he writes his novels specifically for today’s kinds of readers. He knows, when it comes to entertainment, that he’s up against DVRs and Angry Birds, and so he says he strives to write the kinds of pageturners that keep a reader fully captivated and engaged.

You will never create art by trying to beat mass culture on its own terms. And also “today’s kinds of readers” is incoherent. Franzen would have done better to say that he shoots for an audience that will net him a million sales and an Oprah appearance. At least then he’d be honest about writing for white, middle/upper-class people with a smattering of intelligence and lots of disposable income.

The Franzen citation came from this article.

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I suspect you could add “regular NPR listener” to your list of characteristic Franzen readers for even greater precision. Though let’s not forget the large German readership; as Franzen himself professes, they loved The Corrections (I haven’t seen any reports on the German reception of Freedom, however.)

It’s a huge mistake to set out to “create art” when you’re writing anything — novels, plays or third-grade book reports. You set out to write something good (and, perhaps, make some money or earn you tenure), and then history will judge. And why disparage the NPR audience by saying its members have “a smattering of intelligence”? Aren’t those the people who read your blog? Not everyone can live in Brooklyn. I once lived and worked in Brooklyn, and I know.

Hi. Like your blog.

However, in this case, your opinions are mixed with the reporter’s characterization of something he must have said. “Today’s kinds of readers . . .”, is written by Brianna Snyder. It doesn’t seem a quote of Franzen’s and so may ,contextually, not express Mr. Franzen’s words.

All he really says regarding mass culture is, [readers] transform into “viewers.” Also, he refers to his “radically large audience.” Certainly, he has a large audience. It isn’t dismissing to generalize readers as “viewers”. I’m thinking “viewers” relates to the whole internet phenomenon and how it may be impacting culture.

I’m not sure if your humorous dismiveness relates to the subject of his writings or his audience.

Great post, but one major problem: the title of this post suggests that Franzen has, in the past, written anything worth reading. Grievous error.

I wouldn’t base whether or not Franzen will be worth reading on what he says about what/how/why he’s writing. For one thing, writers can change their mind about what/why/how they write, and for another, the things they say about what/why/how they write can be untrustworthy.

Franzen haters of the world unite!

Gs gets this exactly correct. Not sure if this is willfull misinterpretation (bad for anyone) or an accidental lack of reading comprehension (especially bad for a “critic, writer, and editor,”) but there is nothing from Franzen in this at all.

Not only is the “incoherent” phrase from a reporter, but it’s not even based on the actual conversation the reporter had with Franzen. It’s based on the reporter’s description of what Franzen has said “in past interviews.”

I usually love this blog, and am more a fan of “A Naked Singularity” than “Freedom,” but the tone and title of this post are simply way off.

It’s his claim that music doesn’t have “content” (of some nebulous sort) that makes me cringe. Is he only interested in content in the content-aggregator sense? Does it need to be something that Slate can summarize?

Scott, that’s your snobbiest post yet, a real achievement. There’s nothing wrong with aiming for topicality/relevance. As if writing for the movie screen is so different – as if it didn’t take even longer to get a work to the audience.

Writing for the eternal pantheon of art isn’t for everyone. And the audience you’re talking about is at least 80% of the audience supporting books in the U.S. And why single out Franzen? He got shut out from awards consideration this year. Why not go after tis year’s awards darling Jennifer Egan and the dozens of other authors dominating literary fiction here.

Don’t encourage a pile-up on Franzen just b/c he landed serious publicity. That kind of knee-jerk mentality doesn’t exactly entitle you to look down on some kind of perceived herd mentality.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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