Jonathan Franzen makes it deceptively easy to criticize Jonathan Franzen. Yes, he sounds like a boob when he talks about himself, but that’s not really what’s wrong with him, or not really what’s wrong with his writing, if you are one of the people who has the feeling that there is something wrong with his writing. This feeling is deeply subjective and hard to express, a sort of literary Uncanny Valley effect, but if you sense it, you sense it—and, luckily for those of us who do, so does Grantland’s Brian Phillips. Of Franzen’s novels, and their “weird, spiraling cluelessness,” Phillips writes:
Robert De Niro turns 66 today. Sean Penn is turning 49. Controversial book publisher Judith Regan is 56. Yankees star Jorge Posada is turning 38. J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison are both turning 65 today. John McDonald, the restaurateur behind Lure Fishbar, Chinatown Brasserie, and the now-closed Lever House, is 41. Jonathan Franzen, the author of The Corrections, is 50. E! host Giuliana DePandi Rancic is 34. Nicola Kraus, the co-author of The Nanny Diaries, is 35. Hollywood exec Gail Berman is turning 53. Singer Belinda Carlisle is 51. Retired tennis player Jim Courier turns 39. Donnie Wahlberg is turning 40. Former Senator Norm Coleman is 60. And Rick Hilton, father of Paris and Nicky, turns 54 today.
Top Chef's Tom Colicchio turns 46 today. Also celebrating: Marquee co-owner Noah Tepperberg is turning 33. Dealmaker (and Bill Clinton golf partner) Vernon Jordan is 73. Artist Andres Serrano is 58. Ben Affleck is 36. Times style editor Trip Gabriel is 53. And producer Linda Ellerbee is 64. Saturday is the big day for Madonna: The material girl will officially be 50. She shares her birthday with Kathie Lee Gifford, who is turning 55, and Steve Carell, who's turning 45. On Sunday, Robert De Niro will be 65, the same day Jorge Posada will be 37, Jonathan Franzen celebrates his 49th, and Sean Penn turns 48.
Alec Niedenthal is the 17-year-old Alabama novelist who became suddenly prominent thanks to a cheeky letter in the Times Book Review last month. The missive promised a new wave of fiction from a "MySpace-addled" generation, called out well-known older authors and included many large words. This attracted interest from publishers HarperCollins and Grove/Atlantic and an inquiry from Jonathan Franzen's literary agent. But of this group, only one party, HarperCollins, deigned to meet with Niedenthal on his trip to New York this past weekend, and the ambitious young writer left town with a tote bag rather than any deal. He'll presumably have a more fruitful tour after finishing his own edition of the collective "manuscript" alluded to in his Times letter. Until then, the hordes of older novelists struggling to get published have no reason to gouge their eyes out with a fork. After the jump, Niedenthal recalls for the Observer his HarperCollins meeting.
Why, it's Michiko Kakutani, fiction critic at the New York Times, of course! As a general rule, authors do tend to think the "stupidest people in the city" are the ones who reviewed their books negatively. (It's just one of those things.) In Franzen's case, it was her review of his memoir The Discomfort Zone that really set him off: "In the case of this book the author's self-involvement not only makes for an incredibly annoying portrait, but also funnels the narrative into a dismayingly narrow channel." Regardless of quality, it hurts more than usual when someone criticizes your memoir. It's not like saying, "I don't like your characters." It's more like, "I don't like your life." (That said, there are just some things that should not be published.) [NY Observer]
Here's a video clip in which the interviewer had two very simple and specific question for Corrections author Jonathan Franzen, who famously got himself disinvited from the Oprah Book Club for being too ungrateful: Do you regret your run-in with Oprah? And would you be part of the book club if you could do it over again? To these simple questions, Franzen stares at the floor and says things like "What does regret mean?" and then remarks on the magnitude of dividing the world's opinion in two. Maybe this is the nuance necessary to be a literary titan; check out this quote of his at the time of the dispute: "To find myself being in the position of giving offense to someone who's a hero — not a hero of mine per se, but a hero in general — I feel bad in a public-spirited way." No, that's just mealy-mouthed. Yes or no question, Jonathan Franzen. The full clip, after the jump.
Though the invite said "bring your swimsuit," the melange of authors and editors and overly friendly publicists who gathered at the Hotel QT for the release of Jesse Ball's novel "Samedi the Deafness" chose not to. Jonathan Franzen left early and it was probably a good thing anyway that we didn't catch his bare torso; we imagine it a lot like recent Morrissey, but hairier. The gays (a lot of them) didn't want to leave their tote bags unattended. But the party was hardly dry; the host was agent David Kuhn. At last, it was only later in the evening did Paris Review senior editor Nathaniel Rich stripped down and jumped in. Nikola Tamindzic, L magazine's best nightlife photographer of 2007, was there to do what he does best. And he also took some photographs.
So, surprise of surprises, this week's Time Out has a fairly interesting feature in which New York's professional critics are judged by a panel of experts. There aren't many shocks (The New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones and Alex Ross are great music critics, Frank Bruni is inferior to his $25-and-Under colleague Peter Meehan, something about dance, etc.) but the gloves really come off when Times book critic Michiko Kakutani gets reviewed.