Like most great controversies, it all started with Oprah.
Back in 2001, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections was selected for Oprah’s Book Club, at a time when OBC was nirvana for publishers—an immediate launching pad to record-breaking sales and endless press. Franzen shot some b-roll with O, but his invitation for an official sit-down was rescinded after a series of interviews in which he expressed reservations about the pick. “I had some hope of actually reaching a male audience and I’ve heard more than one reader in signing lines now at bookstores say ‘If I hadn’t heard you, I would have been put off by the fact that it is an Oprah pick,”’ Franzen told NPR at the time. “Those are male readers speaking.”
Oprah and Franzen eventually made up—ever a badass, in 2010 she selected his novel Freedom for her book club and the duo intellectually hugged it out on camera—but even after a decade of half-assed backpedaling, Franzen has struggled (or refused) to shed his reputation as an ungrateful douche. “I think [Oprah] was surprised that I wasn’t moaning with shock and pleasure,” he told Slate of the Corrections debacle in 2013. “I’d been working nine years on the book and FSG had spent a year trying to make a best-seller of it. It was our thing. She was an interloper, coming late, and with an expectation of slavish gratitude and devotion for the favor she was bestowing.”
Oprah isn’t Franzen’s only beef. He also has a longstanding feud with author Jennifer Weiner, who has made Franzen the poster child for her crusade against the literary establishment’s gender problem. Weiner says male authors like Franzen get a disproportionate share of attention and review space, while Franzen says that if there is a lit-fiction gender gap, Weiner isn’t a victim of it. “She is asking for a respect that not just male reviewers, but female reviewers, don’t think her work merits,” Franzen said in February. “To me it seems she’s freeloading on the legitimate problem of gender bias in the canon, and over the years in the major review organs, to promote herself, basically.”Continue reading “Jonathan Franzen is a basic bitch, but I’m OK with it”