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


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

Comments () | Archives (7)

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To go national on television and make a statement to the world that she made a huge error taking on Corrections back when, that Franzen was an outright liar bleh bleh bleh. And then bring him back into the fold? These are embarassing times for TV.


You are thinking of a different author -- James Frey and his fabricated memoir "A Million Little Pieces." Oprah declined to select "The Corrections" after Franzen commented in an article that he was concerned about being made an "Oprah's Pick."

@bettye198: I think you may be confusing Franzen with James Frey, who wrote the fake-memoir "A Million Little Pieces". Franzen's only "crime" was that he was, in fact, too honest when asked his opinion of being included in Oprah's Book Club.

Franzen is too good a writer to be in Oprah's "Book Club." I was glad he didn't want her to choose The Corrections. Just as I was glad when James Frey pulled one over on the world. Awesome books all the way around from these guys.

-an English teacher

Half way through it, and Freedom is a highly engaging book, just like The Corrections was. Whether or not I will come to the last page and feel like there was no "there" there, like I did The Corrections, remains to be seen. And if Oprah's sole contribution to society is to get the masses to read, guys like Franzen should be affixing her stickers to the covers themselves.

-an English graduate

It's understandable for an author not to want his work selected for Oprah's book club -- despite the invaluable publicity it would get. The Oprah brand often tends to overwhelm the products it stamps with its approval, creating a public sensation that is always more about Oprah's power to mobilize consumers, than it is about the product itself.

The author's hard work -- plumbing the depths of his soul, agonizing to get passed those bouts of writer's block, struggling to shape an original vision for his story -- is reduced to nothing but Oprah's latest obsession: a fashionable item to carry around. To be sure, more people will buy the book, read it, discuss it and share it with friends, but in all this, the author is always in the shadow of that larger figure that has placed her name on the cover of his book. And for Franzen, I think, he would rather pass on that favor, even if it means losing potential readers and the money that accompanies them.

"'She gets to have the moment of announcing,' Franzen said smoothly..."

What an honor for her.

Can this d!ck be any more of a d!ck? ... What a self-absorbed d!ck.


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