BookPage contributor Alden Mudge talked to Jonathan Franzen about his new novel, Freedom, in an interview scheduled for our September issue. As we count down the days until the novel’s August 31 release, take a sneak peek at their conversation—and find a compelling argument for seeing the author on the road—below.
Jonathan Franzen on readings and book tours
Guest post by Alden Mudge
During my 2001 interview with Jonathan Franzen about his novel The Corrections, he spoke at length about how much he enjoyed doing public readings and the careful preparations he made to ensure that his readings were good events. This was just before the overblown contretemps with Oprah, after which at least some people judged Franzen to be an arrogant literary elitist (and therefore not interested in his readers) or a fool who was turning down a chance to broadcast his views to a wider audience (and who was, therefore, surely not interested in his readers).
When I interviewed Franzen about his new novel Freedom, despite a small dark urge, I did not bring the Oprah thing up. True, the controversy still lives vividly in the eternal archives of the internet. But it is really old, old, old news. And it is news (or should we call it ‘olds’ now?) that is simply dwarfed by Franzen’s achievements in Freedom.
To promote the new book Franzen will be doing an extensive book tour, and he spoke again about how much he enjoys that:
“I never seem to tire of doing readings,” he said. “I like the signing line. Those are very energizing things, because you actually get to have brief contact with people who actually care about books. I’m sure lots of mean, nasty people go to readings. But they sure don’t show up in the signing line. It’s basically just a stream of nice people who care about books. It’s just really energizing to shake hands with them.”
Somewhat later in our conversation, he returned to thoughts about his upcoming book tour:
“I feel lucky to be doing an old fashioned book tour, partly because I know what’s happening in the industry. But also, my dad traveled a lot for his various jobs, was out on the road for a week or two or sometimes even three at a time. Staying in hotels, getting up in the morning and moving on to the next city is a way of connecting with something I was never able to experience directly with him. The real work of writing is sitting, is pretty solitary. You get in a pretty weird state and you feel like some freakish sick child. [A book tour] makes me feel like I have a job and there’s a place for me in the world.”
Jonathan Franzen is a writer with towering literary ambition, and his masterful new novel Freedom largely lives up to that ambition. My experience is that a conversation with him is filled with surprises. So I highly recommend going to one of his readings. And joining the signing line.