BookPage contributor Alden Mudge talked to Jonathan Franzen about his new novel, Freedom, in an interview scheduled for our September issue. As we count down the days until the novel's August 31 release, take a sneak peek at their conversation—and find a compelling argument for seeing the author on the road—below.
During my 2001 interview with Jonathan Franzen about his novel The Corrections, he spoke at length about how much he enjoyed doing public readings and the careful preparations he made to ensure that his readings were good events. This was just before the overblown contretemps with Oprah, after which at least some people judged Franzen to be an arrogant literary elitist (and therefore not interested in his readers) or a fool who was turning down a chance to broadcast his views to a wider audience (and who was, therefore, surely not interested in his readers).
When I interviewed Franzen about his new novel Freedom, despite a small dark urge, I did not bring the Oprah thing up. True, the controversy still lives vividly in the eternal archives of the internet. But it is really old, old, old news. And it is news (or should we call it ‘olds’ now?) that is simply dwarfed by Franzen’s achievements in Freedom.
To promote the new book Franzen will be doing an extensive book tour, and he spoke again about how much he enjoys that:
“I never seem to tire of doing readings,” he said. “I like the signing line. Those are very energizing things, because you actually get to have brief contact with people who actually care about books. I’m sure lots of mean, nasty people go to readings. But they sure don’t show up in the signing line. It’s basically just a stream of nice people who care about books. It’s just really energizing to shake hands with them.”
Somewhat later in our conversation, he returned to thoughts about his upcoming book tour:
“I feel lucky to be doing an old fashioned book tour, partly because I know what’s happening in the industry. But also, my dad traveled a lot for his various jobs, was out on the road for a week or two or sometimes even three at a time. Staying in hotels, getting up in the morning and moving on to the next city is a way of connecting with something I was never able to experience directly with him. The real work of writing is sitting, is pretty solitary. You get in a pretty weird state and you feel like some freakish sick child. [A book tour] makes me feel like I have a job and there’s a place for me in the world.”
Jonathan Franzen is a writer with towering literary ambition, and his masterful new novel Freedom largely lives up to that ambition. My experience is that a conversation with him is filled with surprises. So I highly recommend going to one of his readings. And joining the signing line.
Does the name you give your child affect his or her success in life? Can you tell whether a Sumo wrestler cheated without ever seeing a match?
If you've asked these questions, chances are, you've read Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.
Subtitled "A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything," this nonfiction book has sold millions of copies and inspired a documentary, which you can preview now:
The documentary seems to be destined for success. It was made by the directors of Super Size Me and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival to favorable press. It opens in theaters on October 1. But here's the catch: On September 3, the documentary will be released on iTunes . . . a month prior to its big screen release.
Do the producers hope to appeal to viewers who wouldn't watch the movie anywhere but on their laptop?
Will you watch Freakonomics: The Movie? Where will you watch it? On your computer or in the theater?
Also in BookPage: Read an interview with Stephen J. Dubner about SuperFreakonomics.
The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore
Crown • $23 • ISBN 9780307395030
August 17, 2010
Susan Gregg Gilmore's second novel (after Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen) is brimming with charm. From the first page, you'll be captivated by the voice of the novel's fascinating heroine, Bezellia, named after an ancestor who was one of the first Nashville settlers. The original Bezellia Grove, it is said, killed the Native American who killed her husband during a raid on Fort Nashborough. This particular story is all Gilmore, but pretty much all of the other Nashville details will ring true to residents like me (for one, Bezellia eats at Rotiers!).
Stories of coming of age in the South during the Civil Rights movement are myriad, but Gilmore's addition to this literary tradition feels fresh and is a real page-turner. Bezellia's voice is as unusual as her name, and her life story will capture your imagination.
Here's a taste of that voice:
Long before I had memorized the details of my family's story, I understood that I was a girl unlike most others. I had a pony to ride and a closet brimming with neatly pressed dresses. My bedroom was decorated with teddy bears that were handmade in Germany and dolls with porcelain heads that I was only to admire and never to touch. And, most important, I was always cooked for and attended to by people other than my mother, by people with dark skin and families of their own.
Are you intrigued? What are you reading today?
The 2010 National Book Festival, which takes place on September 25 and is sponsored by the Library of Congress, is currently running a "vote for your favorite Book Festival author" feature.
Authors appearing at the festival include biggies such as Ken Follett, Scott Turow, Suzanne Collins and Time cover boy Jonathan Franzen. Tough competition, huh?
Well, the public has spoken (or, is speaking, as the survey is still open), and the most popular author is. . .
Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander Series!
There's not even a real contest here:
Who is your favorite author on the list? Does anyone have plans to attend the National Book Festival?
Also in BookPage: Read an interview with Gabaldon about An Echo in the Bone.
When Trisha talked to Anne Fortier at BEA, she asked for a one-sentence description of her debut novel, Juliet. The answer? "It's a sequel to Romeo & Juliet!" [Click here to view the complete conversation, and watch other author interviews on the BookPage YouTube channel.]
More specifically, Juliet is about a woman who journeys to Siena in search of her inheritance; discovers she might be a descendant of the woman who inspired Shakespeare's Juliet; and embarks on a thrilling quest. Find out more in the book trailer:
In the September issue of BookPage, reviewer Lizza Connor Bowen praises Fortier’s "razor-sharp framing of time and insight into her characters." She also says the novel is a "fast-paced, sumptuous read."
Is Juliet a candidate for your TBR stack?
If so, you won't be alone. This book has already received a lot of attention—and it doesn't come out in the United States until August 24. Foreign rights have sold in 32 territories. It's a bestseller in Denmark, the author's home country, and Germany. And Universal bought the film rights, with James Mangold and Kathy Contrad (Walk the Line) attached to produce and direct. Not bad for a first-time author!
Lisbeth Salander (aka the girl of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is a "tattooed, waif-thin, 20-something hacker known for her extreme antisocial behavior and capacity for violence."
And she has captured the reading public's imagination as the star of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy.
By now, we all know that Sony is releasing an American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher, in December of 2011. On The Book Case, we've been speculating about the movie's casting for months.
Today Sony announced that Rooney Mara will star as Lisbeth. Daniel Craig is already confirmed in the role of Mikael Blomkvist.
Mara starred in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street and will also appear in The Social Network, Fincher's movie about the founding of Facebook (and based on Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires).
Mara is quite obscure compared to other actors rumored to have been in the running to play Lisbeth: Carey Mulligan, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson...
Do you think Fincher made the right choice?
From posting about Dr. Seuss or the Great American Novelist—to making fun of the Great American Novelist—book bloggers have been busy this week. Highlighted below are a few posts I enjoyed. What about you?
Green Eggs and Ham Hit Bookshelves Everywhere 50 Years Ago Today!!!
Posted by Between the Covers: Tattered Cover book Blog
Between the Covers writes that Dr. Seuss's beloved Green Eggs and Ham turned 50 on August 12 (yesterday). Interesting fact: Did you know that the book came about because of a bet? This blog post explains:
Green Eggs and Ham, the critically acclaimed 1960 book, was born out of a $50 wager between Ted Geisel and his Random House publisher, Bennett Cerf, who bet he couldn't write an articulate, entertaining book using only fifty words.
When Bennet Cerf heard Ted's first reading of the book, he seemed dazed, shaking his head over the clear triumph of Green Eggs and Ham.
Trust Me -- This Could Be Fun
Posted on The Memory Project (author Laura Lippman's blog)
Are you sick of all the Jonathan Franzen coverage? Crime novelist Laura Lippman has a good anecdote—a hilarious Mad Libs-style game in which she re-writes Franzen's Time cover story to feature herself, instead. Here's how Lippman introduces the game:
Jonathan Franzen is going to be on the cover of TIME. I had it on good authority that I was the other August author under consideration, but so it goes.
Now, many years ago, Nora Ephron -- man, how many times have I cited her on this blog -- had a killing parody of how to write a magazine cover story. Interestingly, the rules as she observed them do not seem to have changed much. This profile (an abridged version is online) begins with a comically strained scene involving 41 sea otters. [Click here to keep reading.]
Editor & Author: Jonathan Galassi and Jeffrey Eugenides
Posted on Farrar, Straus and Giroux's "Work in Progress" blog
This post may have gone up a month ago, but it's still worth a read. FSG maintains a site devoted to their authors' works in progress, and this entry is all about Jeffrey Eugenides' (of Middlesex fame) next book—which editor Jonathan Galassi calls "One of the most anticipated new books around the FSG offices (and out in the real world, I daresay)." Though Eugenides won't reveal his novel's title, he will say that "the new book ranges in setting from Providence, Rhode Island, and Cape Cod to Calcutta." Will you be excited when you get more details on this project?
Today we learned he's profiled—and photographed in a bird-watching pose—for the September issue of Vogue. (Most revealing quote? “Freedom is my most autobiographical book.")
Finally, Deadline New York reports that producer Scott Rudin has bought the movie rights to Freedom. Here's more from writer Mike Fleming:
Rudin—who years back optioned The Corrections—hasn't yet set Freedom at a studio or assigned a writer to adapt it. But I'm told Franzen's reps at CAA completed the deal just before the issue of Time hit newsstands today.
Have you pre-ordered a copy?
The literary blogosphere is buzzing this morning with the news that Time is featuring an author on their cover for the first time in 10 years (Stephen King made the grade in 2000).
Lev Grossman, a novelist himself, interviewed Franzen in person for the story. He calls him a member of that "perennially threatened species, the American literary novelist." Perhaps that's why Time puts authors on the cover so rarely? Galleycat has a complete list of the 11 so honored in the past, which includes the likes of Virginia Woolf and John Updike. You can read an abridged version of the article online, or you can purchase Time when it hits newstands later this week (it's the August 23 issue).
We did our own interview with Franzen for our September issue of BookPage, and the piece will be featured on BookPage.com on the pub date of August 31. Alden Mudge says "Freedom rings with meaning and pulses with recognizable contemporary life."
Until then, you can read our interview with Franzen (also by Mudge!) about his breakthrough 2001 hit, The Corrections.
Is there an author you'd like to see on the cover of a magazine like Time?
For example: Patricia Cornwell will publish two more Kay Scarpetta novels with Putnam. The 18th book in the series, Port Mortuary, hits stores on November 30.
Any predictions on what'll happen to Scarpetta in future novels? Here's a (vague) hint: The Boston Herald reported on August 6 that Cornwell visited the New England Aquarium to do research for a novel. She "toured the marine animal rescue facilities and attended a seal-training session."
What with Lifetime's adaptations of At Risk and The Front and news that Angelina Jolie will play Scarpetta on the big screen, it's been a busy year for Patricia Cornwell.
Are you still into the series after all these books? Will you read Port Mortuary?