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Jonathan Franzen, on the cover of Time

Time_franzenJonathan Franzen's new novel, "Freedom," is coming out later this month, and it's being treated with no little fanfare. Franzen appears on the cover of the upcoming issue of Time magazine -- an honor not extended to a living author since Stephen King in 2000 -- with the words "Great American Novelist" in large type.

The headline is not for the geekily bookish minority of people who might recognize Franzen at a glance. It's for the majority, who are likely to look at the cover and think, "Who's that guy?" Now they know. He's the Great American Novelist.

Those people may not remember that Franzen's last novel, "The Corrections," won the 2001 National Book Award. They probably don't know that its reputation has only grown since then; it made many best-of-the-decade lists last year.

And then there was the Oprah thing. Oprah's book club had been going like gangbusters, and she selected "The Corrections" for it, all but guaranteeing significant sales.  Franzen expressed some discomfort at his book's selection, and his remarks were widely reported -- his apologies less so -- causing Oprah to not just cancel the selection but to severely scale back her book club. Bad news for publishing.

The affair left Franzen understandably gun-shy about talking to the media. In the Time magazine piece,  Lev Grossman writes that Franzen is still "uneasy."

It's hard to say exactly what makes Franzen so uncomfortable. It could be me, or the prospect of being on the cover of Time. It could be the pressure of having to follow up the huge success of The Corrections, or it could be the much fretted-over standing of the novel in America's cultural-entertainment complex. Maybe it's all of the above.

Exactly how Franzen demonstrated that discomfort is a mystery, for now; Time has posted only part of the story online. To read the complete version, people will have to purchase a print copy when it goes on sale Friday. "Freedom," officially hits shelves August 31.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Time 


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Art for the sake of art.

Apparently America has moved on from an era of celebrating Steinbeck and Hemingway or even Vidal and Updike to being "geekily bookish" if a person recognizes a well regarded author. I don't know anything about the article or even if it's a good book, but I applaud Time's effort to place "the novel" --if only temporarily-- back on the shelf of our national awareness.

So, the writer is placed on the cover of TIME magazine.....

Will his face sell newsstand copies of the magazine?

Will his cover appearance result in the sale of more copies of "Freedom"?

Other than the owners of TIME, Mr. Franzen's publisher and agent, and Mr. Franzen himself, does anyone care???

I remember when NEWSWEEK sold for a dollar. Wait-a-minute ~~ that was last week, wasn't it?

THE CORRECTIONS was a great and very accessible novel.

People who can only talk about art in terms of money make me want to take a shower.

Congratulations to Franzen for making the cover of TIME. The Corrections was a highly enjoyable, very literate novel. I look forward very much to reading Freedom.

Incidentally, in response to Erik Fosden's post: I consider Saul Bellow superior to Vidal and Updike (and Mailer). :)

One author per decade graces the cover of Time? I'm reminded that sometimes the best publicity is bad publicity, as was apparently the case with Franzen's Oprah debacle.

If you think this is some sort of event ...

When was the last time you went out and bought a copy of TIME magazine?

Yeah. Right.

Next week the cover will advertise "kittens for free."

Sheesh. Get a Life.

(Another obsolete rag.)

I still don't understand what everyone sees in this guy. The Corrections was pretty mediocre, all things considered. Maybe he'll improve upon it with his next book, but then I don't plan on reading it to find out.

I agree. "The Corrections" was mediocre. I read a lot, mostly major authors of the 20th century, and I just don't get how anyone who has read the great books of the last century could put Franzen in the company of those authors. The fact that Franzen is on the cover of Time doesn't really lend credibility to anyone's greatness. It once presumed to be informative, but now it's just a gossipy joke pretending to be a news source.


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