Well, Time magazine is one thing, but the latest twist in the intersection between pop and literary culture is brilliant enough that it may land its leads on the cover of Us Weekly. Jonathan Franzen, known to many readers and nonreaders alike as "That Author Who Rejected Oprah" (though he's perhaps more accurately described as "That Author Who Expressed Ambivalence About Oprah's Book Club and Had His Membership Revoked") after his last book, The Corrections, was and then wasn't an Oprah pick, will finally be welcomed back, as Oprah Winfrey helped to launch off her show's final season today with a bit of reconciliation and closure by choosing Franzen's new novel Freedom. It's her first Book Club pick in a year--but, she promises, not her last one. (That's a sigh of relief you are hearing from booksellers and publishers across the country. Unless you're in Brooklyn in which case it may have been a tornado.)
Oprah calls Freedom "an epic family saga that has it all—sex, love…even rock 'n' roll!" When I picked it for our August Best of the Month shortlist, I said it was "a wrenching, funny, and forgiving portrait of a Midwestern family," and it is. I'm a big Franzen fan (check out Strong Motion too!), but it's been fun to see colleagues and friends, some of whom had never read him before--often because they were turned off by that whole Oprah episode--picking it up and devouring it as eagerly as I did.
The Great Reconciliation is an event so overstuffed with built-in plot and commentary that it feels like everything that can be said about it already exists, so I don't have much to add, even at this early hour. But as it happens the author in question made a stop by our offices earlier this week, so it's excellent timing to share our discussion. We didn't talk about Oprah, or Franzenfreude, or any of the other controversies that seem to attach themselves to this fairly mild-mannered novelist as if he were Missouri's answer to the Gallagher brothers. (That's not to say Oprah did not come up: after he read a very funny section from Freedom (on Connie's first visit to Joey in college) to a large group of people here at Amazon, the first question from the audience was one he must have gotten a few hundred times, asking him to explain l'affaire Oprah, to which he emphasized that he had actually been thrilled when he first heard she had chosen The Corrections. The complications only came later...)
Instead, we stuck to the book: how it came about (apparently one early seed was his crush on Mia Hamm) and what it's been like to have written the book everyone is reading (and that was before today!). You can listen to us below, or read the full transcript after the jump:
Amazon: It's been nine years, which was also the time, I think, between Strong Motion and The Corrections. I know this is a terrible question to ask a novelist, but I'm very curious about what that time is like and how a book like this comes together over such a period. Where did you start? How does a novel accrete for you?
Franzen: It accretes almost literally in the form of bad pages, failed attempts to get it going earlier. The nine-year thing is a little misleading because I did publish a complete and original memoir in that period. And the nine years between Strong Motion and The Corrections is also misleading because I had done a book's worth of essays in that time. So I like to think of it as more like four or five years between books.