Jonathan Franzen: 'The American Right Wing' Trivialized the Word 'Freedom'

Jonathan Franzen gave an interview to the Santa Cruz Sentinel in advance of a reading he’s giving in that city on Sept. 1. Franzen lives part of the year in Santa Cruz, so naturally the interview ranged over his experience living there. Franzen also talked about recognition he’s received and how little it affects him before taking a few shots at culture and politics today. It’s pretty obvious that Jonathan Franzen is not the least bit concerned with courting the same folks who read Glenn Beck’s Overton Window:

  • Franzen on making the cover of TIME: “I will say that, obviously it’s a great honor, but it doesn’t really compare with even a medium-sized breakthrough in the work. It made me miss my dad, who read Time magazine for 50 years. He’s no longer around, so I didn’t have any reason to particularly want it, except to the extent that it might help get the book into the hands of people who might enjoy it.”
  • One of the author’s pet subjects is modern distractions: “Distraction presents itself whether you seek it or not. I was gratified by the study of multi-taskers that came out a year ago and got a lot of press attention. People think they’re being more efficient when they multi-task. But often they’re being less efficient and the jobs are not being done as well. […] In order to create a reading experience that will really envelope you and transport you, you have to be enveloped and transported yourself. And that’s very hard to do when you’re checking your iPhone every five minutes.”
  • Franzen’s take on what his interviewer calls “the consequences of freedom” and how he constructed his new novel: “…I don’t get anywhere if I don’t start with characters. And that’s why it takes years and years to write a book because creating the right kind of character in the right kind of story is not something you can do overnight and seems only to get harder the longer I work. I was embarrassed by the title for a while and couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone what it was until I finished the book. But I did have it for a while. […] I do think the word freedom has been trivialized by the American right wing in the last 10 years. I would hope it would carry some connotation of irony at this point.”

Meanwhile, the slow boiling controversy over the way critics regard work by authors like Jonathan Franzen as opposed to novels by commercially successful authors like Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult may be bubbling over.

[Santa Cruz Sentinel] Jonathan Franzen: 'The American Right Wing' Trivialized the Word 'Freedom'