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Jonathan Franzen reads in L.A. and Oprah is in the air

September 17, 2010 |  8:00 am

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Close to 600 people turned out Thursday night at the Aratani Japan-America Theater in downtown L.A.  to hear author Jonathan Franzen read and discuss his novel  "Freedom." Earlier that day, news had broken that Franzen's "Freedom" will be Oprah Winfrey's next book club selection. She is expected to announce her choice on her show Friday afternoon.

"I think that's great," said Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, who attended the event with her book group. Bynum was selected as one of the New Yorker's 20 writers under 40 earlier this year. "I'm pleased that people will be reading it and pleased that she didn't let the kerfuffle influence the way she feels about this book."

The kerfuffle was Oprah's selection, in 2001, of Franzen's last novel, "The Corrections." Franzen told a reporter that he was ambivalent about having the Oprah book club sticker on his novel; the story quickly spread, and Oprah, dismayed, pulled the plug on her book club for a time. By choosing Franzen again, Oprah can turn a story of disconnection into one of reconciliation.

"That'd be cool, that'd be nice" said Desi Candari of Riverside, a collector with a stack of Franzen hardcovers. "I'd like to see them face to face."

The announcement has not yet been confirmed, and Franzen didn't mention it during his onstage conversation with Meghan Daum. But the very first question from the audience was about the news that "Freedom" is Oprah's next book club pick.

"She gets to have the moment of announcing," Franzen said smoothly, moving on to the next question.

If Franzen's book is going to be announced today, Franzen most surely knows. "I knew a month in advance," said Janet Fitch, whose novel "White Oleander" was the Oprah book club selection in May 1999. Fitch was sworn to secrecy. At Franzen's event, she recalled being on a book tour when a bookseller, a week before the announcement, opened a box of her books adorned with Oprah's book club sticker. "I practically crapped in my pants," she said.

When Oprah made the announcement that she'd selected "White Oleander," Fitch said, "I was at home, screaming at the television." About a month later, after readers had a chance to read the book, she joined Oprah on her show.

Franzen signs in Austin, Texas, on Friday. Asked by The Times when he'll get to Chicago, where Oprah's show is produced, he paused and said, "about a month."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jonathan Franzen reads at the ALOUD series in Los Angeles. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

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