It’s Never Too Late for Freedom

7 Dec

It’s unfortunate that right before I started this blog, I had just finished Freedom. Although the novel would have easily earned the prestigious four-paper-cut rank–what’s a Pulitzer really worth anyway–more importantly, I felt I had so many things to say after reading it. One time, I paused in Grand Central to finish a chapter before walking the rest of the way to work; I literally pulled over to the shoulder of a corridor with my face in the book. A few seconds later, I notice another guy making the same move. I look up, he’s reading Freedom as well. …No, our eyes didn’t meet over our books, and we didn’t skip off together to a future of secret sex in libraries. But I did tap him on the shoulder, point at my book, point at his book, and give him a dopey smile. (It’s really a wonder we didn’t end up together.) In any case, my point is that’s the power of this book. You’ll give dopey smiles to strangers in subway stations!

So I’m thinking about all this–my ill-timed completion of Freedom, my inability to engage in adult flirtation–because I just watched Jonathan Franzen’s interview on Oprah (which yes, means I had to record Oprah) and it reminded me how impressively nerdy a lot of authors are. It’s not that he was unfriendly or pretentious (a charge that’s been levied on him by Oprah fans in the past) but rather that he just doesn’t seem used to public speaking. Considering the man writes in what he describes as a dark, cold, silent room, this isn’t entirely surprising. I mean seriously, he says “p.o.’d” instead of pissed off. Dude doesn’t seem to get out much.

I suppose it would be weird, especially as a writer, to attain a level of fame that earned you the cover of Time magazine, 20 minutes with the president and an interview on Oprah. Unlike actors and other performers, authors in person always seem mildly baffled by their success, or at least by the fact that people have any interest in their physical presence. Some of the most prolific writers are antisocial.

As someone who spends much of her time reading, watching television or writing about reading and watching television, I have a soft spot for those who struggle with superficial banter or social etiquette. After all, writing is itself an exercise in stepping away from the interpersonal, not only literally–in dark, cold, silent rooms–but emotionally, so you can become someone else and write as someone else. Like literary method-acting. Even when, as is the case with Freedom, a novel’s strength is the depth of its characters and their emotions, it’s still fiction. So kudos to you Jonathan Franzen, for braving the big wide world of real-life humans–Oprah fans, no less; I think one woman literally shit her pants when she found out she was getting a free Kindle–to share your craft with a studio audience and millions of middle-aged housewives.

Well, my pretentious pants are getting tight. Time to switch over to Gossip Girl.

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