Jonathan Franzen, “Freedom” and Big Flippin’ Deal Book Syndrome

Freedom is big enough and thoughtful enough to engage and irritate an enormous number of readers.” — Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Freedom, the new novel by Jonathan Franzen, arrived in bookstores today.

This book has been accompanied by an unusual level of fanfare and backlash. The New York Times gave it not one but two reviews that all but hailed it as the most important American literary novel to come along since … well … The Corrections, by Franzen. Much importance as well was attached to the fact that last week, Franzen was the first living novelist to grace the cover of Time magazine in quite some time.

With such big hype, however, comes big backlash. There was much histrionic chatter over booksellers supposedly breaking today’s release-date embargo when one gave a copy to President Obama to read during his recent vacation. Novelists Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner stirred the pot when they claimed that The New York Times, in gushing twice over Freedom, is biased toward white male authors and against a) women authors; and b) writers of commercial fiction. And The Washington Post, as if to stand apart from The Times, gave Freedom a mixed review with many pointed criticisms. And, of course, many people haven’t forgiven Franzen for “disrespecting” Oprah in 2002 when he cringed over her Oprah Book Club endorsement. So bombastic is the blowback that it’s inspired a new term, “Franzenfreude,” and has made Franzen “the author we love to hate.”

So, with all that buildup, let me throw some questions at you to discuss:

1. Did you pre-order Freedom, or buy it today?

2. Do you plan to buy Freedom at any point?

3. To what extent do reviews and publicity, good or bad, influence you to buy a book?

4. What’s your opinion of Franzen and his work?

5. In today’s fractured, scattered, multi-media world, can there still be such a thing as an Important American Novel that gets everybody across all age, class, ethnic and gender stratas talking about it and its themes?

6. Did all this chatter fly right past you … and you find that you couldn’t care less about Franzen and his book?

The floor is yours.

2 thoughts on “Jonathan Franzen, “Freedom” and Big Flippin’ Deal Book Syndrome

  1. I shouldn’t admit this, but I failed to notice that “Freedom” was the same book involved in the presidential embargo break. I did, however, put it on my to-read list after reading the Economist’s review (, even if I do cringe at anything being proclaimed “the great American novel.” I’m a sucker for magazine reviews, especially when links to them are conveniently timed to appear in Twitter on my lunch break.

  2. I stopped by Eagle Harbor Book Co. today, and Paul Hanson, the manager, told me that a number of people stopped by the store when the Obama whoop-de-doo broke, and thought that since the president got a copy, the Tuesday sales embargo was pretty well broken and that they should be able to buy a copy. But Eagle Harbor held fast to the prescribed release date.

    When I stopped in about 5 p.m., there were plenty of copies of “Freedom” on hand. I asked if there had been much of a rush; not really, he replied. I mentioned that much of the hype had been East Coast-centric, and Hanson nodded. “Now that I think about it, most of the people who asked for it were from the East Coast,” he said.

    Earlier in the day, I bought a copy at Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo. I had reserved a copy a few weeks before, thinking there would be a rush. When I walked into the store, I mentioned that to the girl behind the counter, who merely pointed to the front table. “Um, you can just grab one there,” she said, pointing to a stack of at least half a dozen.

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