jonathan franzen + jonathan franzen!


(both franzen events had no photo policies, so here are three photos of the book.)

it's always such a pleasure to hear franzen read/speak.  i've heard him read/speak several times before, but he seemed much more at ease at these two events and had the audience laughing the whole time.

and before this starts getting weird ...

purity (FSG) is also the most relaxed of his novels, though.  people have been talking a lot about how purity is different from his previous novels, namely the corrections (FSG, 2001) and freedom (FSG, 2010), and i'd agree with them -- purity really is tonally different because it's entirely lacking the anger that pulsed under both the corrections and freedom, that generated a lot of the energy behind those novels.

it's not to say that the corrections and freedom are angry books or that franzen hates all his characters (whenever i hear people say that, i think, wow, you're reading these books all wrong), simply that there is this charge running through those novels, something that's entirely absent in purity.  i think i kind of missed that?  i don't know; there's something so powerful and breathtaking and exhilarating about the corrections; and i admit it took me a bit to adjust to this lighter, happier (michiko kakutani called it "fleet-footed") novel.

then again, i'm also reading it for the second time this month, so.

2015.09.24 @ the 92Y (manhattan) with mark greif.

franzen read from three different parts of the book:  the very beginning, a segment from "too much information," and the beginning of "[lelo9n8a0rd]."

  • (before reading from "[lelo9n8a0rd]")  "this is set in the past ... back when there were answering machines."
  • Q:  was there a part of the novel that was hardest to write?
    • (long silence)  "you get right to the questions i'm most uncomfortable with."
    • on the first person:  it didn't take that long, but i felt about five years older when i was done with it.
    • had to be exaggerated
    • i think what made it hard was that i'd get to a point where i'd think it was so extreme.
    • the general territory of marrying young and very idealistic is not unknown to me.
    • the extremity of it was invented.
    • what surprised me was how much of a sympathy i ended up with for anabel.
  • Q:  how did the plot of the book come about?
    • it did develop over time.
    • i'd pictured the east german character forever -- like thirty-five years, i've been thinking about him -- and i'd wanted to write about california.
    • had a really good friend who grew up in east berlin who would be like "no, this isn't plausible"
    • did more research than he would've liked
    • "i'm not a social realist novelist."
  • Q:  what are you, jonathan franzen?
    • that's a good question, and i think it's a hard question for the writer him or herself to answer.
    • if there isn't a comic pop in the sentences, i can't write them.
  • (about starting on a new project and whether he has it worked out)  "it's an adventure every time."
    • i found myself making the same mistakes as a twenty-three-year-old.
    • it's a groping process still.
  • freedom was written after a period of time when i did a lot of bird watching and had a lot of fun for the first time in my adult life.
    • it occurred to me that not many people have gotten away with being a misanthrope and a novelist at the same time.
    • especially with the kind of writing i do, you have to love people.
  • the missing nuclear warhead is a placeholder as a reminder that other apocalyptic (material*) are out there.
    • *i can't read my handwriting.
  • so maybe purity was a rededication to writing about people.
  • what stopped me for six months was i couldn't figure out what tom did.
    • two possibilities he'd dwelt on:  chris cooper-like guy who'd been a character actor; a math whiz and collector of antique computing devices
    • got to know chris cooper by then
  • "hollywood has not changed you.  you're still the same guy."
    "it goes both ways.  i haven't changed it."
  • i think i know which men i'll be really good friends with the minute i lay my eyes on them.  love at first sight.
  • i think i can tell within a few pages if an author is struggling with something or performing.
    • he's reading ferrante's neapolitan novels right now
    • she writes like she's writing into a wound.

2015.09.26 @ st. joseph's college (brooklyn) with wyatt mason

  • once had to write to the new york times to specify that he wasn't a brooklyn writer (nothing against brooklyn)
  • "with herculean forebearance, i don't talk about birds until page 555."
  • i always write about readers.
  • re:  the first person:  it is a document, and, once i figured out it was a document, was able to figure out how it would work.
    • i thought it was absolutely impossible to take [such a heinous situation] in third person.
    • the kind of laceration that needs to be happening, if it were in third person, the author would seem monstrous.
  • re:  patty's document in freedom
    • that was actually in converse because i tried to write a lot of the patty parts in first person.
    • wasn't ironic enough
    • patty was a very angry person.
  • maybe the first novel (the twenty-seventh city, FSG, 1988) was a novel of ideas.
  • re:  putting these books together
    • it's very much done by instinct.
    • put these titles on these books to force himself to put characters and story around these concepts
  • how did the book take the form it did?
    • it came about from a crazy idea.
    • the resolution of pip and her mother was so preposterous, there had to be all this scaffolding built quickly.
    • the book is sort of a packaging for the first-person section.
    • been getting mixed reactions to it
    • some people identify strongly with it, but he thought people who've had smooth relationships might have a hard time with it, so he pushed it back instead of putting it in the front.
  • Q:  why don't we hear from anabel?
    • really, one could say you can't hear from everybody.
    • it never even occurred to me to include something from anabel's pov because i think she's such an extreme character with this extreme idealism, and i can't connect with that.
    • Q:  so it's somewhat imaginatively beyond you?
    • not so much that but an inability to love and connect
    • "some characters honestly just work better as objects in characters' lives."
  • all my books are the same length.
    • (mason counts off)  568, 562, 563
    • Q:  you have a length.  what does that mean for an author five books in?
    • i struggled to cut this down to this length.
    • i have a fear of inflicting a too-long book on people.
    • 2666 was (long*); i wouldn't do that.
      • * again, can't read my hand-writing ... basically that it's long (2666 is long), but not that it's bad.
    • i've read and enjoyed war and peace many times, so it's not that i'm against [long books] on principle.
  • i'm trying to design the books as page turners but also as something that people might want to reread (with motifs and such).
  • "fiction is an experience.  that's what it should be, i think."
  • i beat myself up as a twenty-year-old who went to europe and didn't write everything down
    • my days when i'm working, which doesn't happen very often, include a lot of packaging.
    • this book was grueling, included one more drink a night than usual, and a lot of gin and tennis.  and television.
    • works 5-6 hours in the morning
  • it's hard to imagine readers past thirty-five years into the future because i don't expect to be here past thirty-five years.
    • i do think about how the books will translate -- like, i know there are chinese editions of the books.
    • things start losing relevance almost before they're published.
    • i feel like, i know someone's going to read this now (hence the references to contemporary culture because, essentially, as long as someone gets it now ...)
  • my first two novels, i was still so full of the lefty politics i'd breathed in when i was young.
  • gave up on politically charged writing during his mid-30s because he started to wonder how he was so sure he was right
  • "i think the novel is epistemologically superior to any politics."
  • Q about the death of walter's girlfriend in freedom:  if she'd lived, would they have had a future?
    • if she hadn't died, i think they would have gone through some rough times but come out on the other side.
    • the whole book was actually meant to encase that death.
    • had an uncle walter, who was his favorite uncle, whose daughter died in a one-person car crash when she was twenty-two.
    • uncle would tell him about his life, and he promised to tell hi story.
    • uncle walt actually lived long enough (passed away recently) to read the book and got it.
    • i get the conversation that the death was convenient, but it was what i was writing to.
  • "do you want a question about sauerkraut or about women?"
    "i love both."
    • "i do love sauerkraut."
    • to this day, i make country ribs and sauerkraut on christmas even.
  •  i was a miserably hard-working person until the corrections broke through.