“Free Markets Foster Competition”

by on September 2, 2010 at 9:52 am in Books | Permalink

That's a chapter title from Jonathan Franzen's new book Freedom.  If you think you are going to like this book, you almost certainly will; it delivers on its promise.  The problem is, I never thought I was going to like this book.

This passage is one of many that made me cringe:

"And while you're here hon, can you help me with my taxes?  They're due tomorrow and my nails are wet." 

Is there any surer way to long for Victor Hugo and "men as they ought to be"?

I almost stopped reading it at about p.100.  I was not afraid it would get worse, rather I was afraid it would get better and I would start liking it and finish it.

Which is precisely what is happening.

1 td September 2, 2010 at 10:00 am

Well… *That* chapter in The Corrections almost made me give up reading.

2 Andrew September 2, 2010 at 10:21 am

Never even heard of him, that’s why I come here.

Soon afterward, Franzen’s invitation to appear on Oprah’s show was rescinded. Winfrey announced, “Jonathan Franzen will not be on the Oprah Winfrey show because he is seemingly uncomfortable and conflicted about being chosen as a book club selection. It is never my intention to make anyone uncomfortable or cause anyone conflict. We have decided to skip the dinner and we’re moving on to the next book.”

I wonder if Oprah gets her irony. If not, here goes. Oprah, you were offended because you do think your attention is a kind of gift. You do think you affect readership and you obviously do. You did. It’s why you do it. He said so. It’s why you were offended. Why writers have this strange relationship with commercialism I don’t know, but artistes don’t listen to me, thank God. Why not produce a men’s show?

3 Ted Craig September 2, 2010 at 10:35 am

I’m just trying to figure out when the secret vote was taken that decided Franzen was the greatest writer of his generation.

4 Josh K-sky September 2, 2010 at 11:08 am

Tyler, have you read Warlock by Oakley Hall? It’s full of ideas about law, legitimacy, and justice, plus “men as they ought to be” wondering how precisely they ought to be.

5 Alex K. September 2, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I clicked on the comments link only to discover that “Eli” above wrote the exact sentence I wanted to write:

“Weirdest book review ever.”

6 Laserlight September 2, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Mind telling why you cringed? Why you disliked the first 100 pages? What youliked about the rest? And why in heaven’s name would you want to not like a book, and why you would keep reading it while wanting not to like it? Right now this isn’t a book review, this is kinda of the prologue to a review.

7 Paul Sas September 2, 2010 at 2:20 pm

The quote deserves context– It’s a quip delivered in icy irritation by a character, and captures both her jealousy/resentment and lack of respect for the one who’s nails are supposedly “wet.” It’s not the narrative voice, but rather, the inflected tone of that character. I rate the Corrections as the best book of the noughties. As but one tiny validation of his magisterial intellect, the book in 2001 described a music startup called “eigen-Melody”, and at that very moment startups in SF were using those very statistical techniques to develop a music preference engine. Last night, I heard Jonathan Franzen launch his book tour at the Capitola Book Cafe (just south of Santa Cruz, and apparently a good enough place for birding to draw Franzen away from NY for part of every year). My major question (being about 200 pp into Freedom): Is it plausible that the lengthy embedded autobiography could be such a virtuosic work (it’s written by the very same woman whose mouth spoke Tyler’s arch quote).

8 lt.milo September 2, 2010 at 4:20 pm

I think he is saying that he didnt want to love a book by such a popular writer. Franzen gets a lot of press, to the extent that you can find his novels in your local grocery store.

9 A September 3, 2010 at 1:03 am

Maybe Tyler just reads so many books that sometimes he wants a book to be bad so that he can skip to the next one. If he wanted every book to be good, if he wanted to like everything, then he would end up finishing too many books. Or maybe he fears that if he starts liking a relatively unimportant book, he will have to finish it, leaving him less time for more important ones.

10 David N September 18, 2010 at 7:48 pm

If I had a nickel for every time someone threatened to stop reading Tyler Cowen…

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