Let me start out by saying I didn't read Freedom yet. I am working my way through The Corrections and hope to take on Freedom next week. But of course Oprah has picked Jonathan Franzen's new book and the publishing world rejoices. Feels like old times again. A major work of fiction comes out and the big kahuna picks it for her club and the book is number one on the NY Times bestseller list and people are reading again again and nobody is talking Ebooks or a Napster like catastrophe. With everything going so well, I really don't see Franzen calling Oprah's picks cheesy this time around.
That is the Oprah conundrum for the writer of serious fiction. You sure want that blessing at the same time you secretly think your book is better than a lot of those Oprah I was saved in the nick of time bestsellers. There is something in fiction writers that makes them want to be taken seriously and read by nicotine stained scholars in musty libraries and at the same time they want their books to fly off racks in airports. Don't we all? It is this conundrum that being an Oprah pick brings to the front--the literary writer singled out for saleability if not readability.
Franzen zapped the Queen on his first book and was shown the door. I remember my agent shaking his head saying Franzen had really shot himself in the book. Elitist. Snob. The other names were much worse. Worst thing was Oprah was pissed. A decided No No in the publishing world. She is the locomotive of sales in the publishing world and this snot nosed author had insulted her and now his book would suffer. It didn't really. The Corrections kept chugging along and so did Franzen and now he is back in the saddle again with the big ladies nod.
But I don't see Franzen doing it again. First his point was made and everyone knew his point. Oprah is a talk show host who likes books and it has been a great thing. But she is not a literary critic and has picked books without great merit. So what? It happens. But again we go back to that strange bird which is the writer of literary fiction. The whole reason to write serious fiction has nothing to do with sales. It is only after the fact you are thrown out there to push your wares like a shoe salesman. Writers don't like to see themselves that way and having the biggest shoe saleswoman of them all like your book makes one fact inescapable...your book is a piece of commerce and you better keep your mouth shut.
William Hazelgrove's novel Rocket Man is due out in the fall.