Oprah and Franzen Kiss and Make Up With Her Book Club Pick: Freedom

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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 16:  Writer Jonathan Franzen attends The 2009 New Yorker Festival: Fiction Night at Cedar Lake on October 16, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Joe Kohen/Getty Images for The New Yorker)

Oprah revealed perhaps one of the worst-kept secrets of her show when she announced Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom would be the next Oprah Book Club selection. Rumors have been rampant for weeks, and the past few days yielded pictures of the book with the “O” symbol on it. It seems that Franzen -- who had previously begged off being part of her book club -- and Oprah have kissed and made up.

I have to make two confessions. First, I don’t read Oprah book club selections. Well, I’ve read a few of them, mostly by accident. While I applaud her efforts to get people reading and will praise her for doing so, I’ve just never really be blown away by her selections.

Secondly, I have not read Franzen’s highly acclaimed novel, The Corrections. It’s partly because I just never really got around to it, but that’s only part of it. Part of it also due to his refusal to be part of the Oprah book club back in 2001.

I know. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. After all, I don’t read the book club books, right? My problem came with Franzen’s reported feelings that by being part of the book club he would alienate male readers. Moby Lives quoted him as having said in a radio interview, “I worry — I'm sorry that it's, uh — 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. I figure those books are for women. I would never touch it. Those are male readers speaking."

I’m a woman. I read. I read quite a lot. I read literary fiction. I read commercial fiction. I read chick-lit. I read romance. I read fantasy. I read young adult literature. I read graphic novels. (Hey, I told you I read a lot.) I am a Reader. What I heard when he said that is that he didn’t want to write for me -- that writing for me was beneath him. His book was already a best seller. He didn’t need Oprah ... or woman readers like me. My reaction was an instinct not to read him, a literary “Bite me!” if you will. If writing for me is beneath you, don’t worry, I won’t read you.

Franzen backtracked on some of his statements, and I do believe that he really didn’t mean to insult anyone. As he pointed out in this New York Times article from 2001, he realized you can’t say things to a reporter the same way you can to your friends. He didn’t take time to polish his remarks before he let them loose. I understand that. I still don’t want to read him. Yes, I am holding a bit of a grudge.

While I’m still holding that grudge, it appears that Oprah is not. On her September 17 show, she announced Franzen’s new novel Freedom as the latest selection for her book club. (Yes, her book club will be continuing as she moves over to her own cable network.) How did it happen? Well, it seems that they managed to set aside their differences. According her statement on the show, Franzen sent her an advanced copy of the book. She loved it and asked his permission to use it as a book club selection because, as she put it, they have a bit of a history. He agreed this time around, and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s also good discussion fodder.

Anne Moore thinks that you should run, not walk, to get a copy of Freedom, despite Oprah’s endorsement.

Never mind Oprah’s endorsement: buy, borrow, beg, steal Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom.” I have a pre-Oprah copy that’s making its way through my household; my teenage son is reading it, my husband has next dibs, my college-age son is visiting this weekend. We’ll have to hide it from him.

Sarah Weinman at the Daily Beast said that the selection was reflective of Oprah’s dropping rates and farewell to daytime.

[...]Freedom is not just a throwback to the once mighty post-World War II-esque social novel in terms of content and style, it is also a reminder of how the book world used to operate and still pretends to: a top-down approach, where publishers and critics decide what the masses should read, instead of the niche-driven bottom-up approach spurred by what trusted friends recommend on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and other social media. There’s more than a whiff of fin-de-siècle about Freedom, and so it makes perfect sense that Oprah, experiencing her own extended goodbye to traditional mainstream media, would reach out and add the proverbial cherry on top to what may be the last literary bestseller decided the old-fashioned way.

Some people don’t think Oprah should have asked his permission.

Look. I really loved FREEDOM. But Oprah asking Franzen's permission? Too blatant a bid for validation from a woman who shouldn't need it.less than a minute ago via web

And still others thought that Oprah should have used her power to promote a lesser known author.

Oprah could have launched a black woman writer with her last pick, but she picked a white dude that everybody's already reading.less than a minute ago via web

There’s certainly lots to discuss. Will you be reading the Freedom along with Oprah? Do you wish she had chosen a lesser known author? What book do you wish she had chosen?

Contributing Editor Sassymonkey also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.


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