Friday, August 20, 2010

Jonathan Franzen -- 'Great American Novelist'

Yes, let’s start with this.

1. I rolled my eyes when I saw Jonathan Franzen’s Time cover — not because his fame founded from a minor tiff with Oprah; not because his reputation is predominantly based upon a single novel that I think is overrated. (No, I didn’t like The Corrections, but I understand why other people do.) It’s not even that there are other authors who I feel deserve the honor more. Everyone has their favorites, and Franzen has both commercial and critical cache.

No, I rolled my eyes because Time felt the need to pair Franzen with the words “great American novelist.” I don’t question that Franzen is a novelist and American, and there are many people who are smarter than me that think he’s great. But the words have a ring of exclusivity.

The title seems, at least, premature. Steinbeck, Melville and Hawthorne are great American novelists. Mailer and Updike are great American novelists. So are Toni Morrison and Philip Roth.

I just don’t feel like Franzen has earned what these names have earned. (Let me be clear. I’m not accusing Franzen of hubris. I have no reason to think he suggested the cover head.) Maybe Freedom will blow me away, and I’ll have to retract my statement. Maybe I will be embarrassed for ever doubting him. But, right now, he is a man with some momentum. Let’s see if he can sustain it before we coronate him.

Franzen’s cover shot is also a big deal because Time has not put a writer on its front since Stephen King 10 years ago. (That fact is a bit misleading. Harry Potter appeared on the cover more recently for a story that was mostly about J.K. Rowling.)

The Millions has written a detailed history of the many writers who have appeared on the cover of Times.

2. Norman Mailer once claimed that God told him to walk out on an all-night diner’s check in 2007.

“It was God’s amusement to say, ‘You little prig. Just walk out of there. Don’t pay for the coffee. They’ll survive, and this’ll be good for you,’” he said.

This and some of the other worst divine-advice excuses are compiled in this Salon slide show.

3. What is most disappointing? That they are making a movie of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road?

That they are filming this crucially American story in Montreal? (I mean stateside America. Obviously, Montreal is in America.)

Or that the cast includes Kristen Stewart?

4. Alice Walker on the segregation of African-American authors:

In my passion to locate more books by writers from other cultures I took a turn around the Kindle and Amazon sites, to discover something that seems truly amazing: books by black authors are segregated by race! This would be hilarious if it were not so troubling. If, after all of our struggle to integrate into this questionable system we may enter a bookstore and stand anywhere, but our books must reside in a corner, the world has not changed nearly as much as I, for one, assumed it had.

There are writers from Iran, Japan, Ireland, England, India, China, Israel, Korea, Tibet etc., all listed and shown to be writers of Literature. But when looking for my own novel (which world wide has sold perhaps fifteen million copies) I found it tucked away with twelve or so books by other African Americans under African American Literature. To make matters worse, no one had bothered to read the book to verify the narrative. A synopsis has the main character raped by her father rather than by her stepfather (her father was lynched when she was an infant) a point that is crucial to comprehending the dynamics of the heroine’s rise from disaster.

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August 20, 2010 at 11:15 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

alice walker is right that the segregation of books by african-american novelists is nauseating. but she had no one to blame but the obnoxious proponents of "african-american studies," and "african-american literature," who pushed, nay, shoved, this kind of separatism on university departments as well as the world of books and publishing. they, like the female writers who wanted their work in some kind of icky "feminist" or "gender" category, have no one but themselves to blame for their self-ghettoization.

September 1, 2010 at 8:21 PM 

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