Sunday, September 5, 2010


Jonathan Franzen's Freedom is probably the big book of the fall, for more than one reason. For one thing it's a Very Big Deal in the publishing world, which has its own mysterious laws. For another, it's just a big book physically, at well over five hundred pages. And it's also big in its ambitions and ideas.

I've read it, but I'm not going to review it here. Partly it's because I don't feel quite up to the task, and partly because this book really doesn't need any further help from me. Of the several things I've read about it so far, I think this New York Times Book Review piece by Sam Tanenhaus was the most helpful, though I'd recommend reading it after you read the book rather than before.

Personally, I would and will read anything Jonathan Franzen cares to write, just to make my own position clear.

I thought instead of a book review, I'd mention something funny that happened a couple of nights after I finished the book. I was watching a performance on PBS and one of the characters gleefully said "Freedom for everyone!"

What's not to like, right?

Well... that character was Don Giovanni, surely one of the archetypal villains and libertines of Western Civilization. And as a matter of fact, there is a Don Giovanni type in Franzen's book, in the character of Richard Katz, punk rock star and seducer, though by no means as black and white or one dimensional a character as the Don. In any case, this particular vision of freedom is one of the many types that Freedom is written to illustrate and explore, so I watched the rest of the opera looking for parallels.

During an intermission, there was a brief interview with the conductor, Donald Runnicles. He said that at the end of the opera when Don Giovanni has met his just fate, it's interesting to see that the other characters are left with a kind of blank space or vacuum in their lives. And it's certainly true that Freedom would have been the poorer without Giovanni's latter day avatar. What this says about demonic energy, I really don't know.

Read the book.   

(The cartoon, by the way, is from a site called Head Injury


  1. I like that you recommend the book without the ´traditional review´. And I agree that sometimes when a great book has been around for some time, all has been said and done, and it is very difficult to say something even remotely interesting about it.

  2. Thank you, Dorte. It actually has only been out less than a week, but already it has been talked about Everywhere. I was fortunate enough to read and advanced copy of it, otherwise I would be nowhere near done.

    Not to be too namedropping, but the author and his girlfriend Kathy Chetkovich, also a writer, have a second home here in Santa Cruz and in recent years have become friends of mine, which doesn't lessen the difficulty of writing about his work, even though I admire it a great deal.

  3. And now it is the Oprah pick!

    I enjoyed The Corrections and got immersed in those lives. I'm glad there's a follow-up!

  4. Yes, we've been speculating for a few weeks that that is the case, since you have to preorder the book and there really aren't that many hardbacks from parent company MacMillan that it could have been.

    I'm happy to see that there are a number of author interviews appearing on the web with Franzen, as I suppose in the end I am most curious about what he thinks he was doing rather than what everyone else thinks he was doing.