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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Jonathan Franzen, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 43
1. Serious Novels Imagined as Children’s Books on Tumblr

chabon

Imagine Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road, Michael Chabon‘s The Wonder Boys and Jonathan Franzen‘s The Corrections told through drawings in a children’s book.

Jerry Puryear has done  just this. He has created a Tumblr page called Misguided Paeans, which is dedicated to children’s book adaptations of serious adult novels. ”A poorly advised amalgam of literary fiction and children’s books,” explains Puryear on the website.

The regularly updated  collection is very entertaining and worth checking out.  (Via Slate).

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2. Jonathan Franzen on ‘the internet’s accelerating pauperisation of freelance writers’

Jonathan Franzen will publish his translation of essays by Austrian satirist Karl Kraus in October, reviving criticism from a critic who self-published his own magazine.

In The Kraus Project, Franzen translates and annotates his work. The Guardian ran an essay from Franzen about why this forgotten satirist still matters today. Check it out:

It’s not clear that Kraus’s shrill, ex cathedra denunciations were the most effective way to change hearts and minds. But I confess to feeling some version of his disappointment when a novelist who I believe ought to have known better, Salman Rushdie, succumbs to Twitter. Or when a politically committed print magazine that I respect, N+1, denigrates print magazines as terminally “male,” celebrates the internet as “female,” and somehow neglects to consider the internet’s accelerating pauperisation of freelance writers.

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3. Jonathan Franzen and a Fear of Noise

Jonathan Franzen, like any curmudgeon, is eminently easy to make fun of. From his hyperbolic denunciations of social media and e-book readers to his passion for birds to that whole Oprah thing... he's an easy target.

So I was extremely excited about seeing him speak in person this past Thursday. I even live-tweeted some quotes, which I knew would probably annoy him intensely considering he called Twitter "unspeakably irritating":


I'm a huge fan of Jonathan Franzen the writer, but could not have a more different worldview than Jonathan Franzen the social commentator. Where Jonathan Franzen loathes e-books I see vast potential, where he fears social media I've made it a career, and where his worldview and human nature is rather bleak with a touch of anger, I've been described as being "posi-core."

And yet, after seeing Franzen speak... I finally think I get where he's coming from.

The moment that made it click for me was almost a throwaway. He was talking about that feeling you have after you've stayed up an hour too late reading a book, and how much better you feel after doing that than when you've stayed up too late watching the World Series of Poker.

Eureka!

I honestly have no idea why that made it click for me, but for some reason it did. I think what makes Franzen tick is a fear of noise.

What's apparent from hearing Franzen talk is how deeply he thinks about everything. He was reading his remarks, but was still thinking about his words as he was talking. He isn't afraid to let twenty seconds go by as he thinks about how he will respond to a question. He is extremely self-aware and is constantly self-examining his motives and hangups. He opened his talk by saying, "I'm here because I'm being paid to be here."

There's a palpable Franzenian weariness and almost exhaustion in all this thinking. He said of his process, "When I'm writing I don't want anyone else in the room - including myself."

But I can see why someone who thinks so deeply and intensely about things would be wary of social media, which he referred to dismissively as "that stuff." I can see why someone who enjoys deep thinking would also be passionate about bird watching, with its waiting, long treks, and elusive moments of glory.

And you know what? If this is what he believes (I don't presume to speak for him), he has a point.

We do live in a world of tremendous distraction. We have all but eliminated boredom. Every stoplight is a moment to check our e-mail, every wait in a supermarket line is a chance to sneak a peek at Twitter, every time our dinner companion uses the restroom is a chance to Instagram.

I intentionally try and just sit and stare out the window on my bus rides to and from work in order to refocus my eyes and let my head clear, and yet I rarely make it the whole way without checking something on my phone.

Societal pressures are on more and more work, mo

54 Comments on Jonathan Franzen and a Fear of Noise, last added: 7/1/2012
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4. Are We Stripping Modern Books Bare?


Reader Drew Turney wrote to me recently with an interesting question. There's so much advice, commentary, and opinion about stripping away anything unessential to a book's plot. Writing in the modern era emphasizes moving the plot forward at all costs, and everything else is "ruthlessly killed off no matter how darling." Digressions and detritus that might otherwise be compelling on their own are eliminated.

Is this a purely modern phenomenon? And is it for the best?

My opinion: Yes to both.

Yes, I do think it's a modern phenomenon. I also think that stripping the unessential is a reflection of the fact that people are getting better at writing books.

But it's complicated.

We're living in a golden era

We tend to view the present in a negative light, especially when it comes to books and literature. Today's books can't hold a candle to Hemingway's and Fitzgerald's, today's readers aren't as noble and patient as readers in the 1950s, social media and distraction and e-books are killing literature (even though studies have shown people with e-readers read more).

We always think things are getting worse relative to some golden era in the past.

Partly this is because that the only books we read from past eras are the good ones. All the pulp, all the duds, all the forgettable ones have largely been forgotten and have been lost to history. We tend to forget that the classics we read were very rarely the most popular books of their time. Every era had its pulp, its celebrity books, and its, well, crap.

And because we elevate whole eras above our own, we also tend to treat classics as sacred and perfect. We don't spend much time thinking about how the books from the canon could have been improved upon or how, say, Dickens could been that much better if he had just reined himself in a little.

When you compare a writer like Marcel Proust to a writer like Jonathan Franzen, you can see the way literature has progressed. Both have incredible insight into human nature and a compellingly unique worldview, but Proust's insights are buried in a tangled mess of digressions, false starts, and drudgery where Franzen's are delivered in the context of a compelling plot.

We think of books like vegetables. If they don't taste good they must be good for you. But does consuming good literature really have to be wholly difficult?

Stripping away the unessential is, I would argue, both a product of how books are now written (it's way easier to strip when you're writing on a computer or typewriter than when you're writing by hand), but also because it makes the books better. The modern era has proven that books can be both great and readable.

That's the point, isn't it? Can't meals be both healthy and delicious?

And yet...

But even still, I have mixed feelings. After all, my favorite book is Moby-Dick precisely because of its scope and its digressions and the sheer insanity of its vision.


Moby-Dick stripped down just to the plot would be about a hundred pages of a crazy captain chasing a white whale. But it's so much more than that. In Moby-Dick, the unessential is the essential.

There are modern writers who embrace Melvillian levels of digressions and detail (David Foster Wallace springs to mind)

66 Comments on Are We Stripping Modern Books Bare?, last added: 7/12/2012
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5. Oliver Sacks, David Foster Wallace, D.T. Max, Joyce Carol Oates, C.K. Williams: A morning spent reading

I had time, just now, that quiet time, of reading the magazines that came in last week.  Oh, the stolen deliciousness of it all.  In The New Yorker, I read of Oliver Sacks on his years dedicated, in large part, to experimenting with large doses of amphetamines, morning-glory seeds, LSD, morphine, and all other manner of neuro-shifters.  I thought of all the Sacks I have read these many years, of the seeming innocence of his beguiling childhood memoir, Uncle Tungsten:  Memories of a Chemical Boyhood, of his great empathy for patients and ferns and other earthly beings. His New Yorker essay delves, skips, and buries time before it rushes, headlong, toward its hard stop.  Sacks had discovered a book on migraines and it had become important to him.  He had a revelation about migraines.  He ...
... had a sense of resolution, too, that I was indeed equipped to write a Liveing-like book, that perhaps I could be the Liveing of our time.

The next day, before I returned Liveing's book to the library, I photocopied the whole thing, and then, bit by bit, I started to write my own book.  The joy I got from doing this was real—infinitely more substantial than the vapid mania of amphetamines—and I never took amphetamines again.
Writing books, Sacks suggests, saved him.  The next story I read, an excerpt from D.T. Max's much heralded biography of David Foster Wallace (in Newsweek), suggests how writing would and would not save this genius.  The excerpt, which focuses on Wallace's early correspondence with Jonathan Franzen as well as his infatuation with Mary Karr, suggests that this book is well worth reading as a whole.  I've always been a huge D.T. Max fan, and I'm certain I will learn from these pages.

In between the Sacks and the Wallace, I found two poems of interest.  Joyce Carol Oates has a chilling, compelling poem in The New Yorker called "Edward Hopper's '11 A.M.,' 1926"worth reading from beginning to end.  Oates was one of several authors who contributed to one of my favorite poetry collections (a gift from my sister) called The Poetry of Solitude:  A Tribute to Edward Hopper (collected and introduced by Gail Levin). Clearly this project, all these years later, continues to inspire.

Finally, within the pages of this week's New Yorker is a poem by C.K. Williams, one of my favorite living poets.  I had the great pleasure and privilege, years ago, of interviewing C.K. in his Princeton home for a magazine story.  Later, I saw him read at the Writer's House at Penn.  He remains vital, interesting, experimental, and honest, and his new poem, "Haste," is a terrifying portrait of time.  From its later phrases:

No one says Not so fast now not Catherine when I hold her not our dog as I putter behind her
yet everything past present future rushes so quickly through me I've frayed like a flag

Unbuckle your spurs life don't you know up ahead where the road ends there's an abyss? ... 
My first corporate interview isn't until 1 this afternoon.  I'm sitting down to read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.  I figure it's time.


(That above, by the way, is my cat Colors, who lived with me for many years.  She's climbing into my bedroom window.  I'm eleven or twelve years old.  And I'm reading on my bed as she pokes her pink nose in.)

4 Comments on Oliver Sacks, David Foster Wallace, D.T. Max, Joyce Carol Oates, C.K. Williams: A morning spent reading, last added: 9/8/2012
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6. Remembering What You Read

I admit it: I have trouble retaining the details of books. Most texts eventually get relegated to a dark corner of my mind, slowly accumulating dust until they're barely visible at all. The only thing I can remember about DeLillo's White Noise is that the narrator's wife is named Babette, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen [...]

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7. Obi-Wan Kenobi Joins Adaptation of The Corrections

Ewan McGregor, the actor who played a crazy private detective in Eye of the Beholder and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels, has been cast in HBO’s upcoming adaptation of Jonathan Franzen‘s The Corrections.

Here’s more from The Hollywood Reporter: “McGregor will play Chip, the middle child of an elderly Midwestern couple ([Chris Cooper], [Dianne Wiest]) who reunite the family for one last Christmas.”

Who else would you cast for this grim family drama? As we noted earlier this year, Noah Baumbach and producer Scott Rudin were involved.

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8. Byliner Fiction to Launch with New Story by Amy Tan

Digital publisher Byliner.com will launch its new fiction initiative with “Rules for Virgins,” a new story (set in 1912 Shanghai) by Joy Luck Club author Amy Tan.

Byliner Fiction will feature everything from short stories to novellas. Here’s more from the release: “We are beginning to build a structured archive on Byliner.com of great short fiction from writers such as Annie Proulx, Jonathan Franzen, Lorrie Moore, Paul Theroux, and Stewart O’Nan.”

Byliner will release Tan’s story, priced at $2.99, on December 5th. Readers can find it in the Amazon Kindle Singles store, at BarnesAndNoble.com, as a Quick Read in Apple’s iBook store and in the Google eBookstore. According to the company, this will be Tan’s first fiction publication in six years. Tan’s new novel, The Valley of Amazement, will be published by HarperCollins’ Ecco imprint.

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9. Gyllenhaal, Ifans and Gerwig In Talks for The Corrections TV Show

Maggie Gyllenhaal (Secretary), Greta Gerwig (Greenberg) and Rhys Ifans (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1) are in talks to star in TV adaptation of Jonathan Frazen’s The Corrections for HBO.

Gyllenhaal is up for the part of Denise Lambert, the talented bisexual young chef and family mediator. Gerwig would play Julia Vrais, middle child and Chip’s married girlfriend and Ifans would play Julia’s Lithuanian husband, Gitnas, in a cameo. Bruce Norris, playwright (Clybourne Park) and theatre actor is in talks to play Banker and amateur photographer, Gary Lambert.

The show, which will be written by Franzen, has already cast Diane Weist and Chris Cooper as Enid and Alfred Lambert. Ewan McGregor has also been casted to play the peter pan like Chip Lambert, the most outwardly screwed up member of the Lambert Family of St. Jude, Missouri.

It is rumored that the show will air in 2013 and will be produced by Scott Rudin (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.)

 

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10. Why Are So Many Literary Writers Technophobic?


It seems like hardly a week goes by without one literary writer or another hyperbolically decrying the way we're all going to hell in an electronic handbasket.

First Jonathan Franzen argued that e-books are damaging society and suggested that all "serious" readers read print.

Last week Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan complained of social networking, "Who cares that we can connect? What’s the big deal? I think Facebook is colossally dull. I think it’s like everyone coming to live in a huge Soviet apartment block, [in] which everyone’s cell looks exactly the same."

Zadie Smith has written of Facebook: "When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned."

This of course comes on the heels of Ray Bradbury complaining in 2009: "They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’ It’s distracting. It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere."

And of course there's a long and storied history of writers eschewing technology and returning to nature, such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I don't have any stats to prove this definitively, and to be fair, there are some modern literary writers who definitely embrace tech. Colson Whitehead is tremendous on Twitter and wrote reminded everyone that the Internet isn't the reason you haven't finished your novel. Susan Orlean, William Gibson, Margaret Atwood and others have embraced Twitter.

But doesn't it seem like there's some nexus between literary writers and technophobia? Are literary writers more likely to fear our coming robot overlords and proudly choose an old cell phone accordingly (if they have one at all)? Do they know something we don't?

Even when a writer really does use tech as either an artistic mode of expression or as a relentless self-promotion engine (or both), like Tao Lin, he's derided (or praised, depending on one's POV) as "a world-class perpetrator of gimmickry."

Have lit writers become our resident curmudgeons? Or are they just like any other cross-section of the population? Is it tied to deeper fear of the transition in the book business? Is it just not interesting to think new stuff is cool?

69 Comments on Why Are So Many Literary Writers Technophobic?, last added: 2/19/2012
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11. Franzen is Not a Fan of E-Books

Not surprisingly, Jonathan Franzen is not a fan of the new technology craze in the publishing industry. Franzen spoke recently at the Hay Festival in Cartagena, Columbia, and weighed in on his perception of ebooks vs. traditional printed literature.

“The technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it’s pretty good technology. And what’s more, it will work great 10 years from now. So no wonder the capitalists hate it. It’s a bad business model,” Franzen said, during a press conference at the Festival in which he spoke about a number of different topics including President Obama, the financial system and the lack of Religion in his work and he also had plenty to say about the future of the book.

“Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring.”

Jonathan Franzen has a forthcoming book of essays “Farther Away” coming out in April. The title piece is his reflections on the suicide of his best friend and writer David Foster Wallace, who would have celebrated his 50th birthday yesterday.

 

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12. Jonathan Franzen: ‘Twitter Is Unspeakably Irritating’

Once again, Jonathan Franzen has generated online headlines by making dismissive comments about our online activities. Author Jami Attenberg saw Franzen speak at a Tulane event last night, copying down a few quotes about social networking.

Here is a Franzen quote from the post: “Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose…it’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters…it’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’…It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium … People I care about are readers…particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”

The quotes have spawned a new Twitter hashtag this morning: #JonathanFranzenHates. How would you argue against his comments?

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13. Jonathan Franzen Signs a Kindle

One Reddit reader convinced Jonathan Franzen to sign his Kindle eReader this week, earning a “resigned sigh” from the digitally averse novelist.

As you can see by the image embedded above, it appears Franzen scribbled his name and wrote “SIGNED KINDLE” on the back of the device. Doubters can double-check the signature against this copy of Franzen’s signature.

Earlier this year, Franzen knocked digital books: “When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring.” He also took a shot a Twitter this week.

continued…

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14. HBO Passes on Jonathan Franzen Adaptation

After ordering a pilot last year, HBO has passed on The Corrections, a television adaptation of Jonathan Franzen‘s bestselling novel.

Director Noah Baumbach shot the pilot and Franzen produced alongside Scott Rudin. Franzen discussed the project at a literary festival last year. Are you surprised?

Variety has the scoop: “The Corrections revolves around the troubles of a Midwestern couple and their three adult children as they trace their lives from the mid-20th century to ‘one last Christmas’ together near the turn of the millennium. The parents were played by Chris Cooper and Dianne Wiest while Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal were cast as the couple’s adult children.”

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15. Judging Salon’s Good Sex in Fiction Contest

Salon chose eight novel excerpts for its first Good Sex in Fiction Contest, and asked Louis Bayard, Walter Kirn, Laura Miller, and me to judge and discuss them. I ranked the Franzen highest, and also outed myself as a total pervert.

The problem with these excerpts is — and I didn’t entirely realize this until I started reading for the contest — that the sex I respond to most in fiction is really fucked-up. It’s definitely not that I want to experience the anonymous sexual assaults of Nicholson Baker’s The Fermata (though I confess, I did think that book was hot, in its autistic way), or get involved with a porn-obsessed televangelist as in A.L. Kennedy’s Original Bliss, or abduct a man and use him as my sex slave, as in Rupert Thomson’s The Book of Revelation, but those stories stay with me because they reveal something incredibly dark and twisted and, to me, true about desire and obsession. I like fiction, whatever the subject, that exposes the surprising longings its characters harbor in their heart of hearts. Mary Gaitskill’s “The Other Place,” in the latest New Yorker, is a perfect example, though it’s not actually about sex at all.

You can read the contenders, the winner (from my pal James Hynes’ Next), and our discussion over at Salon. For more distorted sexuality in fiction recommendations, see The Paris Review Daily’s latest advice column. I also love my friend Alexander Chee’s fabulously disturbing and complex Edinburgh. And finally, I re-recommend James Hynes’ piece on “The Dreamlife of Rupert Thomson.”

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16. What Is the Future of the Book Review?

Friend of the blog Stephen Parrish passed along a PW link about Washington Post book reviewer Ron Charles and his popular (and funny) video reviews.

Here, for instance, is his review of FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen:



It got Stephen (and me) to thinking... what is the future of the book review? Do you read reviews? And which kind?

Is Charles' embrace of a non-print format a further sign this is the end of the road for the print review? Or is he breathing new life into them?

53 Comments on What Is the Future of the Book Review?, last added: 3/16/2011
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17. Jennifer Egan Wins 2011 Tournament of Books

Today A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan has won the 2011 Tournament of Books at The Morning News–a round robin competition that pits books against books every March.

A team of literary judges decided each round of the competition, and all the judges voted on the final two books: Jonathan Franzen‘s Freedom and Egan’s novel. Egan earned nine votes; Franzen earned eight.

Andrew Womack concluded the contest with this vote: “How fortunate to find two books in the championship so comparable—both spanning decades (or beyond) and heavily centered on music. For me, this decision comes down to pacing, and Franzen is the Pink Floyd to Egan’s Sex Pistols; by the end of Freedom I couldn’t take another meandering guitar solo, while I was dazzled by how much Goon Squad packed into such a compact space.”

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18. Jennifer Egan Wins 2011 Tournament of Books

Today A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan has won the 2011 Tournament of Books at The Morning News–a round robin competition that pits books against books every March.

A team of literary judges decided each round of the competition, and all the judges voted on the final two books: Jonathan Franzen‘s Freedom and Egan’s novel. Egan earned nine votes; Franzen earned eight.

Andrew Womack concluded the contest with this vote: “How fortunate to find two books in the championship so comparable—both spanning decades (or beyond) and heavily centered on music. For me, this decision comes down to pacing, and Franzen is the Pink Floyd to Egan’s Sex Pistols; by the end of Freedom I couldn’t take another meandering guitar solo, while I was dazzled by how much Goon Squad packed into such a compact space.”

continued…

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19. Jonathan Frazen Writes About David Foster Wallace’s Suicide

For a limited time, The New Yorker will give Facebook fans free access to a Jonathan Franzen essay about his relationship with the late David Foster Wallace. Follow this link to access the essay.

Here’s an excerpt: “The people who knew David least well are most likely to speak of him in saintly terms. What makes this especially strange is the near-perfect absence, in his fiction, of ordinary love. Close loving relationships, which for most of us are a foundational source of meaning, have no standing in the Wallace fictional universe.”

What do you think about the provocative essay? Last week, we found a number of tax tips hidden inside The Pale King–Wallace’s unfinished novel about the lives of IRS agents.

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20. Not perfection (and Jonathan Franzen on David Foster Wallace)

This is not my yard.  This is the perfect lawn of Chanticleer Gardens, where two of my books take place and many of my other books have been considered.  This is the lawn children tumble down, the lawn my own Chanticleer students once traversed as they made their way from prose poems to villanelles.

This is also not my life—this quiet, green perfection.  My life is more like last night—those 45 minutes of sleep that I finally got—or more like this morning, when, after deciding that further sleep was not an option, I turned on my computer only to experience a three-hour computer crash.  My email files have now been restored, thank you very much.  But it's 11:20 AM, and I have not dressed for the day.

What I have done, while wading through no sleep and no connectivity is to read and blurb a book, to talk to my father, and to read Jonathan Franzen's essay, "Farther Away," in last week's The New Yorker.  This is the piece my dear student brought to me on Tuesday.  This is the quality of work she finds inspiring.  And no wonder.  I share with you now the passage my student read aloud to me, on that gray day, in that dark and too-cold room, her voice the warmth, her presence the light.  It's Franzen reflecting on David Foster Wallace:

People who had never read his fiction, or had never even heard of him, read his Kenyon College commencement address in the Wall Street Journal and mourned the loss of a great and gentle soul.  A literary establishment that had never so much as short-listed one of his books for a national prize now united to declare him a lost national treasure.  Of course, he was a national treasure, and, being a writer, he didn't "belong" to his readers any less than to me. But if you happened to know that his actual character was more complex and dubious than he was getting credit for, and if you also knew that he was more lovable—funnier, sillier, needier, more poignantly at war with his demons, more lost, more childishly transparent in his lies and inconsistencies—than the benignant and morally clairvoyant artist/saint that had been made of him, it was still hard not to feel wounded by the part of him that had chosen the adulation of strangers over the love of people closest to him.
What we learn from our students.  What they yield.

2 Comments on Not perfection (and Jonathan Franzen on David Foster Wallace), last added: 4/24/2011
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21. Writer's Block and how to find a way out of it

Philip Pullman doesn't believe in it. "Carpenters don't get carpentry block." He argues that we shouldn't be so precious about what we do. Instead we should just treat writing like a job of work and get on with it.
James Kelman's advice boils down to the same thing. He says that the only way to defeat the blank page is to write even when it's the last thing you feel you are capable of doing. Even when all you can write is - I don't know what to write. The mind hates a vacuum and something will come out of it...not a very good something perhaps, but something all the same and writing always has to be better than not writing. Remember the wise words of the great short story writer Katherine Mansfield.

Far better to write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all. 

And inspiration only strikes when you are already at the keyboard or have a pen in your hand.Jonathan Franzen has a different take on the subject. In a question and answer session at the famous New York creative hub, Gotham City Workshop, he says that it could be a sign that you're writing the wrong thing.
It happens when I'm trying to write something that I'm not ready to write, or that I don't really 'want' to write. And there's no way to discover my unreadiness or unwillingness except to try and fail.
I would certainly endorse that trying and failing bit. You can't write in your head. It only counts when paper is involved at some stage. All the thinking about a story won't tell you if it works: only putting one word after another can do that.
But I think perhaps we do need to give ourselves permission to have a break from a story that is being particularly difficult. If it is stuck then staying around may make the the mud thicker and stickier....but it has to be a real break: not writing doesn't count. You have to take the writer part of yourself off to a different world and a different story. Only then will you be able to see if you need a holiday or a divorce.

Click on the title of this post to read all of Franzen's Q&A session

2 Comments on Writer's Block and how to find a way out of it, last added: 5/24/2011
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22. Desperate Characters/Paula Fox: Reflections



I read four books while I was away (beyond all that I read about Berlin). I reported on the first—If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, Robin Black's crisp and smart debut short story collection—here. I'll be reporting on the others (The Paris Wife (hmmmmm) and The Coffins of Little Hope (a marvel!)) in days to come.

But this very early morning, I'm reflecting on the scouring brilliance of Paula Fox's Desperate Characters. It's a book I'd always meant to read, an author whose story I have followed.  That doesn't mean that I was prepared for the hard, bright smack of Fox's sentences, the relentless disintegration of a domestic arrangement that may or may not hold. We have Jonathan Franzen to thank for helping to bring Desperate Characters back into print and wide circulation. We have, in the Norton edition, his essay that suggests that the book is, "on a first reading," "a novel of suspense."

As the novel opens, Sophie Brentwood is bitten by a stray cat; Sophie's hand swells. Sophie should have the hand checked, but she is afraid.  She can imagine dire consequences—rabies, even death—but other underlying fears persist and complicate.  Three days will go by, and the wound will keep molting, oozing, disfiguring, haunting, and this is the running tension—this cat bite, this not knowing, this unwillingness to find out, this false hope that comforts lie elsewhere (in drink, in friendship, in secrets, in lashing out).  Into this strange, unsettling frame Fox inserts the fractures of a marriage in naked near stasis. Sophie and her husband, Otto, are childless.  Otto is abandoning a business partnership with a long-time friend, Charlie—bating him, hating him, feeling abandoned and abused by him. Brooklyn, finally, is scathing and scabrous and ill-equipped, in these late 1960s, to wrap this couple in a numbing sheen.

Sophie and Otto know too much. They see too much. They both despise excessively and love forlornly.  Is this all that marriage is? All it offers? Is there refuge among the refuse? In whose arms can one trustingly take shelter? Desperate Characters is a brutal book, a lacerating book, and if that makes it a hard book to read, it also makes it an impossible book to put down. I, for one, read the bulk of it while being jostled about during a long wait at the Berlin airport.

There are easy books, and there are hard books, and I will be honest: I prefer the latter.  I want to be tested.  I want to think.  I want to study a book and ask, in awe, How in the world was this made?  Desperate Characters has me asking.

2 Comments on Desperate Characters/Paula Fox: Reflections, last added: 6/22/2011
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23. Happy Birthday, Jonathan Franzen

Today is novelist Jonathan Franzen‘s birthday.

To celebrate, we explored the GalleyCat archives to recover some of the stories Franzen and Freedom inspired on this blog. Enjoy this trip down memory lane, from Glassesgate to Franzen’s first book video (embedded above).

Jonathan Franzen Criticizes Author Videos in New Author Video
Jonathan Franzen Goes to Washington & Meets President Barack Obama
Jonathan Franzen Tops Bad Sex in Fiction Award Nominee List

continued…

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24. President Obama’s Summer Reading

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

President Obama is on his nine day vacation on Martha’s Vineyard with his wife Michelle and their two daughters. Obama is known for having good taste in books, because he has read Netherland by Joseph O’Neil and Freedom by Jonathan Franzen for his past summer vacations. This time he brought almost all novels. Unlike past presidents, Obama picks are serious literary fiction novels.

Winter’s Bone author Daniel Woodrell’s The Bayou Trilogy, is a trio of “Country Noir” novels. Rodin’s Debutante by Ward Just is a coming of age boarding school tale in postwar era Chicago, where Obama started his political career.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is about twin boys in Ethiopia raised by an Indian nun, one of whom turns out to be a doctor. He could be reading this because Obama lived in Africa for a little while as a child, Kenya not Ethiopia, before moving back to the U.S.   To the End of the Land by David Grossman is a book about war in Israel and the relationship between a woman and her two sons, each fathered by different men. The subject of a war forcing people to separate them from their families is an important one right now.

President Obama does have a nonfiction book on his reading list: Pulitzer Prize Winner Isabel Wilkerson’s A Warmth of Other Suns, about the migration of black southerners to the North and Midwest. It looks like Obama has some good reading material for his days on Martha’s Vineyard.

 

 

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25. Jonathan Franzen Confirms Work on ‘The Corrections’ HBO Series

At the New Yorker Festival, Jonathan Franzen confirmed that he is working on an adaptation of The Corrections for HBO. The video embedded above features a small preview of the 86-minute talk with New Yorker editor David Remnick.

According to The Gothamist, the HBO series will have four seasons to be aired over the course of four years. Franzen explained: “I’m really engaged [in the project] … We have an opportunity, I think, to do something that has not been done where we know what happens in the last episode. All four seasons can be very carefully designed in advance.” (via Shelf Awareness)

Franzen also confirmed the rumors that filmmaker Noah Baumbach and producer Scott Rudin were involved. Who would you cast as the members of the Lambert family?

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