Thursday, July 28, 2005

Defending a Fellow Swattie

Via The American Scene, this article about Oprah's book club selecting Faulkner for the summer. Interesting article. Given that Faulkner represents a repudiation of Oprah's supposed middlebrow tastes, the article re-hashes the Jonathan Franzen flap:
One can't help but remember Oprah's flap a few years ago with Jonathan Franzen, whose novel The Corrections she had anointed Book of the Month. After Franzen expressed discomfort with having "a logo of corporate ownership" on his book jacket in a newspaper interview, Oprah disinvited him from her show, even though he had already flown to Chicago for a taped interview. Franzen was widely painted as a snob and an ingrate, although his wickedly funny essay "Meet Me in St. Louis" makes clear the experience was miserable for him as well. But now, in an improbable turnabout worthy of one of Henry James's hourglass plots, the characters have changed places. While Oprah's Book Club has turned its back on therapeutic contemporary fiction and sprinted directly toward the highest hurdle in American literature, Franzen has been publishing New Yorker essays plumbing the depths of Charlie Brown and slaying his literary father, William Gaddis, for being too difficult to read. This summer would be a good time to invite him back on the show, since Franzen shares her love of Faulkner, if not her ability to boost the writer's sales.

The quote about the "logo of corporate ownership" is sort of misleading. As Franzen explained at Swarthmore sometime last year, the objection wasn't to the corporate ownership, so much as to the logo. That is, here was a book he had slogged over for years and it was finally going out in the world. plops Oprah's Book Club with a big logo, claiming ownership over something that was his: what had her book club done to write the book? Now this is obviously a self-serving remembrance of the facts and seems quite petty when you realize what benefit he would derive from the association, but given his high-art pretensions, that knee-jerk reaction is understandable. Perhaps he ought to have kept this to himself, but...


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