Jonathan Franzen is an award-winning American novelist and essayist. Franzen was born in Chicago, Illinois, raised in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, and educated at Swarthmore College. He also studied on a Fulbright Scholarship in Germany. He lives on the Upper East Side of New York City, and writes for The New Yorker magazine. Franzen's "The Corrections," a novel of social criticism, garnered considerable critical acclaim in the United States. It became one of the best-selling works of literary fiction of the 21st century and won both the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.
Question: Who is overrated?
Jonathan Franzen: I always felt E.M. Forster was overrated frankly, to take an obvious example. Never really got it.
When people go on and on about Graham Greene, especially his important books like “End of the Affair,” I get puzzled. But I shouldn’t be.
There’s nothing wrong with Greene and there’s nothing wrong with Forster either, I just feel like, what’s all the fuss about?
Question: What is all the fuss about?
Jonathan Franzen: Damned if I know frankly.
I think there must be American writers, Dave Wallace [David Foster Wallace], I think is one of them, and probably George Saunders is another, who I don’t think the Brits get at all. I think they’re just like, this is so puerile, it’s so easy, I don’t know what they’re thinking, or this is so bratty, it’s so annoying, or it’s so broad or whatever they’re saying.
I think there’s a category of American fiction that just doesn’t cross the ocean [North Atlantic Ocean] so well. And I think that I’m talking about a not inconsiderable strain of British fiction writing, to some people, this is what a novel is, it’s an E.M. Forrester novel or a Graham Green novel. They’re living practitioners in England producing novels that also today seem like, well, this is what a real novelist is and this is what a real novel is. And for some of us in America, you just say, “That’s not even a novelist hardly, that’s sort of a near perfect replica of a novel." So it’s a taste thing.
I think there’s a kind of well made product that Forster pioneered and represents that engendered a great many very well made novels in England in the 20th century that you either think is like what a novel should be, or else you just throw up your hands.
Recorded On: April 1, 2008