Jonathan Franzen at the 2011 New Yorker Festival
[Best of PBIHT; originally published October 6, 2011]
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AMBITION and ANGER, OPRAH and DAVID FOSTER WALLACE
Jonathan Franzen is the author of not one but two large, ambitious novels stamped with the ‘Oprah Pick’ seal of bestsellerdom, the second of which, Freedom, was just released in paperback last month. In introducing him on the second day of the New Yorker Festival this past Saturday morning in a large theatre on West 37th street in Manhattan, the talk’s interviewer, David Remnick, said, “As a reader I can’t think of a writer who’s given me more pleasure.” That’s a fortunate thing to have said about you by the editor of the New Yorker magazine.
Unlike most other writers invited to speak at the festival this year, Jonathan Franzen was not on a panel with other writers. He would be interviewed one-on-one. Franzen knows how to talk. He doesn’t exactly shun the limelight like some writers I had seen (Jhumpa Lahiri, perhaps?). Though his confidence and unabashed intelligence may at times flirt with pomposity, Franzen is truly fascinating, whether he’s talking about his own beginnings, his personal struggles, his competitive issues with David Foster Wallace, his politics or even when he chimes in on the famous Oprah debacle.
On Becoming a Writer
Whilst in third and fourth grade, Franzen read biographies (plural) on Thomas Edison and immediately wanted to become an inventor. It took him six years to realize “I was no good at science.” Only later did he connect the dots and realize that inventors are:
a) People with lots of free time; and
b) People who make stuff up
It helped, Franzen said, to have been so sensitive as to have had “a treasure trove of uncomfortable experiences” growing up. Not that his parents were fully behind him. “They couldn’t conceive that telling lies for a living was helping society in any way.” Go figure.
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