Monday, September 20, 2010

Franzen-fuddle, Franzen-Stein

This is not a story, but it should be—it's just too fucking precious...

Perhaps you've seen the blurbs about Oprah's new book club selection, written by none other than the NY Times Officially Sanctioned Genius, Jonathan Franzen (that I read this in the Times makes it all the more perfect). Okay. Freedom's supposed to be a great book (The Times says so, it must be true). But Franzen and Oprah have a history, if you'll remember. Way back in 2001, Franzen ruffled Oprah's rather ample plumage when, after his novel The Corrections was picked, he suggested that her selections tended to be decidedly "middlebrow", and further said that being among her selections might actually hurt a writer's reputation (and sales) among men. The resulting hubbub (or hullabaloo or brouhaha, if you prefer) resulted in his being disinvited to appear on the show. Ouch.

What bears consideration here, and what connects these dots to the newest Franzen-foofaraw (I'm so very, very pleased I was able to say that) a few days ago, requires an examination of the names comprising Oprah's booklist in 2001, and prior: of the 46 selections, 31 were written by women ("schmaltzy" is another word Franzen used to describe these writers, if your keeping score at home). Since 2001, though, of the 22 selections made, 18 have been written by men—Oprah hasn't selected a work written by a woman in more that 6 years, in fact, when Carson McCullers and Pearl S. Buck were chosen in '04 (fine writers, but hardly contemporary). And now Oprah has selected him again—and he has oh so graciously accepted.

Could his lack of objection of being included among the list this time have something to with its decade-long cleansing of the "schmaltzy" and the "middlebrow" from its ranks? Does the fact that before he opened his mouth more than two-thirds of the selections were women, and since 80% have been men, play into that perception? Has Oprah become even more sexist than the NY Times? Is Franzen a woman-sneering creation of Lorin Stein, one of his biggest supporters (you see where I'm heading with that one, don't you?).

Though the media appears to have missed it, this story just keeps on getting better all the time...


  1. the mainstream media has missed this story, but not Huffington Post nor Daily Beast--one has to consider Oprah's audience and if she's showing better taste that's good, though there certainly are plenty of women writing works of great substance now (how about a plug for one of Jill Alexander Essbaum's books?)--schmaltz knows no gender barriers...

  2. Thing is, Oprah hasn't chosen a book written by a living woman for 8 years, after the work of living women dominated her choices for the previous 6. And this happened after Franzen's criticism. Which seemed to implicitly say that women writers were "middlebrow", and that women readers had middlebrow tastes (because it wasn't female readers he was worrying over losing—the clear implication is that men are more sophisticated readers). I haven't read anyone anywhere who seems to have noticed this drastic change in Oprah's choices, or connected the dots to Franzen, or connected those dots to the latest dust-up with the Times. And I wish they would, cause somebody's got some splaining to do, way I see it.