The event wasn’t supposed to be some run of the mill afternoon of discourse. It was anticipated like an Ali-Frazier bout of verbal sparring, and it featured two thinkers with polarized views about my favorite subject: whether technology is good for the culture.
In one corner of this New Yorker festival production was best-selling novelist and maybe-lovable curmudgeon Jonathan Franzen. He was there to represent a starchy, Luddite view. Franzen is the author of million-selling The Corrections and Freedom (and two other novels!) but others know him best as the man who defied Oprah. In the other corner was media and technology theorist Clay Shirky. Shirky is the only [...]
"Jonathan Franzen, nobody is looking at you. You're in New York City. A guy in cowboy boots and underpants plays guitar for tips in Times Square, and another guy walks around town with a cat perched on his head. Carrying a pair of binoculars is not exactly letting your freak flag fly."
Jonathan Franzen is in my estimation America's best living novelist (OKAY?) and a substantial number of people get upset whenever he writes or says basically anything. It's interesting to ask why! In part it's because his ideas about novels and what people respond to in them are provocative and controversial, and sometimes, as in his recent essay about Edith Wharton, he projects his own responses onto "us" in a way that can be irritating, if we disagree with him. Our opinion about his writing is also affected by of how rich he is and his gender and what he looks like, and that's very hard to talk about. But [...]
The video for the new song from the National features Jonathan Franzen walking around the remote Chilean Island of Alejandro Selkirk, mourning the loss of David Foster Wallace with the hand puppet from the classic video for LCD Soundsystem's "New York, I love You But You're Bringing Me Down." Oh, wait. I should watch it again. That might not actually be Jonathan Franzen.
From the inbox: "Perhaps it's my inner conspiracy theorist, but I noticed a curious addition to the new iPad commercial. It includes, among other things, a cover of Time magazine featuring Jonathan Franzen on the cover. Now, I wouldn't think too much of this except that Franzen's new book, 'Freedom,' includes a lengthy diatribe against the iPod and the way in which music has become so commercialized (and thus intrinsically a part of the capitalist society against which so many bands 'supposedly' stand in opposition). Knowing how vindictive Steve Jobs can be, I can't help but think he intended the commercial to be a fuck you to Franzen, and [...]
There have been enough essays on the death of book reading, but have there been enough words devoted to discussing the decline of book reviewing? In the last decade or so—yes, indeed, as we've all wrestled with how the internet influences everything we do, including reading, writing, and writing about books (Tolstoy LOL tl;dr). But while the words "book-review" made its first print appearance as a headline in 1861 to just that—a review of a book titled How to Talk: A Pocket of Speaking, Conversation, and Debating (verdict: "The present work has the additional recommendation of an unmistakably useful subject, which is lucidly treated")—the practice of criticizing the critics [...]
Today would have been David Foster Wallace's 50th birthday, and if you'd like to mark it, here are some things that might interest you to read (or watch) and revisit. The list isn't intended to be comprehensive; for that there's the Howling Fantods, not to mention this, this and that. This is more like an old trunk, some favorite things that got packed away and today's maybe a nice day to take them out and rummage around a little: Remember when Frank Bruni peeped inside DFW's medicine cabinet? etc.
Today, on the nearly-over Oprah Winfrey show: "One family comes forward about their secret relationship with Michael Jackson. Then, best-selling author Jonathan Franzen and Oprah's new book club pick." While Franzen has taken the Oprahtunity to recommend 34 books to America, Oprah's America has already weighed in on him. Note: sic throughout.
Emily72: I sware! don't people know how to raise kids anymore?! Parents keep apologizing for being incharge, for heavens sake! No wonder people are insecure and act like idiots.
Buckley06: I cannot understand what Oprah saw in this unless it is the constant political rants. If I have to read one more, I swear [...]
Eyeglass thieves to Jonathan Franzen: "$100,000-Your glasses are yours again!" And then: "As news spread around an incredulous party, a police helicopter was tasked to search for the thieves…. One of them was apprehended hiding in the bushes." Why has no one yet claimed this act?
"As algorithms turn more of the subjective domain of human creativity into objective tasks, some observers worry about cultural homogeneity. Are we doomed to a future of uniform harmonies and standardized sentences? Hopefully not, but the advent of creative machines certainly will make it harder for humans to stand out. It may be that only distinct and exceptional talents—Nirvana, the Coen Brothers, Jonathan Franzen—will be able to defend our claims to creative superiority." —Uh, okay.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Great American Novel if your name is George R. R. Martin or Suzanne Collins. You guys are doing great; somebody give them genius grants. I had never before read a 1,000-page book, and now I’ve read like 5 of them. If Westeros had subways things would move along much faster, George. Think about it. (Unless it was a weekend! Then they’d have shuttle buses between King’s Landing and Riverrun like only once every few hours. Ugh!) And obviously Katniss Everdeen should have dated both those dudes in the book rather than suffer the guilt and sorrow of having to choose just one. Let’s [...]
There’s really no delicate way to put this: at this year’s New Yorker Festival, Jonathan Franzen said that David Foster Wallace fabricated at least part of—and potentially a large part of—his nonfiction pieces. I wasn’t there, but after reading Eric Alterman’s summary Friday, and finding no mention of the incident in any other coverage of the festival, I watched the conversation online.
Here's a rough transcript of the relevant exchange (with some “umms” and “uhhs” edited for reasons of intelligibility).
Welcome to June. The month when it's already too hot.
I hope you had a nice Memorial Day weekend. I did, pretty much. Although it was too hot. And it was too hot yesterday, too. I know it's awfully trite to complain about the heat in New York, and how spring is too short in the city. But I'll do it anyway. It's too hot and spring is too short in New York City. Spring meaning not the quarter of the calendar, of course, but the fleeting blip of time each year when you can be outside without a coat, but also without a coating of sweat. When you can [...]