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Hating Jonathan Franzen

Kevin Power
The End of the End of the Earth: Essays, by Jonathan Franzen, Fourth Estate, 230 pp, ISBN: 978-0008299224 It’s OK to hate Jonathan Franzen. Exhibit A: In November 2018, to mark the publication of The End of the End of the Earth, his new collection of nonfiction pieces, the bookchat website Lithub republished “10 Rules for the Novelist”, a list that Franzen originally composed for a 2010 Guardian feature. Franzen’s rules are as useful as these things generally are – that is to say they are as useful as you find them to be. “The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.” “When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.” “Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.” Unexceptionable stuff, you might think. But the online response was virulently hostile. According to the Lithub commenting fraternity, Franzen was “an unbearably arrogant, pretentious twat” and “a massive, self-important douche”. His rules were “Pretentious drivel”; “pretentious, privileged nonsense”; “self-indulgent, elitist nonsense with no basis in fact”; “completely tangential to good writing”. Meanwhile, over on Twitter, users ginned up parody lists: “Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules for Being an Absolutely Mediocre White Guy Who Writes Forgettable Books About Mediocre White Guys Who Are Depressed About Modern Existence and Also Birdwatching”. Or, if they weren’t in the mood for gags, they denounced “jonathan’s franzen’s latest piece of arrogant bullshit”. Jeff Pearlman, a novelist, opined: “God, Jonathan Franzen is one arrogant fuck.” The writer Chuck Wendig – author of the 2015 New York Times bestseller Star Wars: Aftermath – accumulated many thousands of likes for a point-by-point refutation of Franzen’s precepts. Wendig was particularly exercised by Rule 7 (“You see more sitting still than chasing after”). “what the crap does that even mean,” he tweeted. “how does it relate to writing a story/are the characters sitting/is the author sitting, I mean, I’m usually sitting/should I be chasing something/should something be chasing me/what the fuck, franzen”. So: Jonathan Franzen is arrogant. He is privileged. He is mediocre. He is also – to step backwards in time and quote the author of a lengthy Medium essay (“Jonathan Franzen: The Great American Misogynist”, 2015) – a misogynist: “For years,” this author writes, Franzen has “slathered his white maleness across the pages of such venerable publications as Harper’s and The New Yorker,” and his books – the products of a “rich male life” (perhaps not quite les mots justes, but never mind) –…

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