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In the News > Jonathan Franzen: Great American Novelist

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message 1: by Bobby (new)

Bobby I read this Time cover story recently:
http://www.time.com/time/arts/article...
I have Franzen's Freedom sitting on my dresser waiting to be cracked open. A brick of a book, I've been intimidated to start (and have had some other reading responsibilities). This article has definitely moved it up to priority status.

I hoped it would speak more to the perceived lack of a contemporary "great American novelist", but it fell short on that front.

So I pose the questions to you:
Who do you consider to be a "great American novelist"?
What qualifications are there to be considered this?
Is it even important?

Excited to hear your thoughts!


message 2: by Kirsten (new)

Kirsten (kirsandbirb) Interesting article, Bobby! (I was a little put off by counting the otters and what sorts of bird wildlife inhabited his tenth of an acre backyard). It was nice to hear that he's self-conscious and maybe a little modest on top of that. Haven't personally read any of his books, but I might just have to start!

So your questions.. Personally, I think the title "Great American Novelist" is on a person-to-person basis. If someone reads something that just truly turns them on, makes them want to read more about the topic and fills their imagination beaker up to the top? Well that's "Great American Novelist" enough for me!


message 3: by Stacie, Official Anythink Ambassador (new)

Stacie (stacieadelia) | 72 comments Mod
For me, the sign of any "great" novelist is one that can write a story that stays with you long after you put the book down. It's those stories that you carry around in your head all day, that sort of take over your brain. If they happen to be American, then yes, they'd be considered a "great American novelist." Since I'm a sucker for the classics, Steinbeck and Faulkner definitely fall into this category for me -- their themes and characters are so haunting that you never let go of them. They also offer distinct glimpses into American life.

I think that the "great American novel" is important because it's the writer's version of the American dream. Although it seems nebulous and subjective, it subconsciously gives writers something to strive for -- even if they won't admit it. There's something about that term that gets the fire burning in the belly a bit, and for that reason I think it's important. Now, deciding whether something or someone falls into that category or not, maybe not so important.


message 4: by Bobby (new)

Bobby Rumor has it that Freedom is Oprah's final book club pick to be announced tomorrow. Must have been really good since the last time she picked Franzen's book, he made some comments she found offensive enough to uninvite him to her show.
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/a...


message 5: by Stacie, Official Anythink Ambassador (new)

Stacie (stacieadelia) | 72 comments Mod
Does that mean I should add it to my to-read list?


message 6: by Michelle (new)

Michelle (libraryninja) I think Stacie's comments on writers who write stories that stick with you were well said. The ones I think of as the "Greats" also tend to provide some sort of social commentary or critique in their writing. I like books that give me a snapshot of what life and society was like at the time the story takes place. Some modern American Greats for me would be Sherman Alexie, Cormac McCarthy, Don Delillo, Toni Morrison, & Joyce Carol Oates.


message 7: by Bobby (new)

Bobby Finished Freedom last night. You can find my review at my page.

As far as the discussion here, judging on this book alone, I'd be very hesitant to deem Franzen the "great american novelist". Maybe that opinion will shift with time.

I do think however that he tried to write a "great american novel" which explores the American dream and the concept of freedom (hence the title).

I'm really interested to hear and discuss what others thought of the book. There are pieces that have stuck with me, but overall, it didn't live up to my expectations. Hoping someone can shed some more light on it for me.


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

I've got The Corrections waiting to be read, but one of the reasons I haven't yet (the book being an impulse purchase, spec. b/c it was an attractive edition I hadn't seen before) is because I've been really put off by Franzen as a human. He's got more destructive snark than any writer I know.

And something I thought was kind of funny about his choice for a title with Freedom, was he once made a point to say he doesn't write novels with grand titles like "American Pastoral" or what-have-you, and his very next novel is possibly our country's most grandiose buzzword.

And his utter disdain for modernism and experimental writing is probably the biggest bone I've got to pick with him. I still plan on giving him a fair shake with The Corrections, but I don't intend to go any further than that.

As for our country's great novelists (since there have been way too many to compile an even partial list)…
—Cormac McCarthy, if only by virtue of Blood Meridian
—Thomas Pynchon (presumed living, I guess?), he's the voice of our collective subconscious

And I would have included David Foster Wallace, had he not killed himself. I can't think of another contemporary novel (American or otherwise) with the scope and breadth of Infinite Jest. I still think about parts of it every day. I'm eagerly awaiting to read what he did with The Pale King…


message 9: by Michelle (new)

Michelle (libraryninja) Infinite Jest has been on my mental to-read list for a long time but so far I've never been ready to dig into that one. I'll just have to go for it one of these days. Your comments on it make it tempting!


message 10: by Bobby (new)

Bobby From what I understand DFW & Franzen were pretty close friends. I think Franzen even includes him in the acknowledgments of Freedom.

I had run into any discussions about his disdain for experimental writing. I'm sure he and Wallace had some interesting debates then.

Thanks for the comments everybody!


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

In a conversation w/ New Yorker editor Ben Greenman, he said Joyce's Ulysses "sends this message to the common reader: Literature is horribly hard to read. And this message to the aspiring writer: Extreme difficulty is the way to earn respect. This is f—ked up. It's particularly f—ked up when the printed word is fighting other media for its very life."

I honestly have a hard time taking any writer seriously who says something like that about arguably the greatest novel ever written. He just seems like a really narrow-minded fella any time I've heard him talk or read an interview with him.

I do wonder about their relationship, though. I can only assume they rarely talked about literature. Maybe Franzen was an avid tennis enthusiast. Wallace seems to be in almost every respect the antithesis of Franzen in American letters.


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