Jonathan Franzen answers the four perennial questions every author is asked at book readings
Winner of the 2001 National Book Award for his blockbuster The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen appeared at the 2010 National Book Festival a few weeks after the publication of his long-awaited follow-up novel, Freedom (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; August, 2010). With an introduction from the Literary Program Officer at the National Endowment for the Arts Amy Stolls, Franzen took the stage before a packed audience and, saying he was asked not to read from his new work, instead, reading from an essay he originally wrote for an audience in Seattle, answered the 'four perennial questions' every author is asked by the audience at the end of readings. Beginning with 'Who are your influences?', Franzen reflected on his early influences and chronicled his growth as a writer ending with his admiration for Franz Kafka and, switching gears, turned his attention to the negative influences of other writers, including Philip Roth. Franzen next wondered out loud why anyone would want to know about his personal work habits before moving on to the meatier question of whether his characters takeover at some point in a story, a notion that he thoroughly and thoughtfully dismissed. Franzen then weighed in on the question of whether his fiction was autobiographical, parsing the autobiographical aspect of his fiction as 'purposeful dreaming.' Taking questions from the audience, Franzen commented on the necessity of reading all of the classics before being ready to read modern fiction, as suggested in an Atlantic review of Freedom, and the unlikely similarity of the narrator's voice and that of Patty Berglund, the protagonist in the novel.
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