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Who's in the Video
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.[…]

Franzen’s literary touchstones, decades in, decades out.

Question: Which writers inform your work?

Jonathan Franzen: Reference points for me, decade in, decade out, [William] Shakespeare and [Franz] Kafka, decade in and decade out.

It so much depends on what you happen to read when you’re 19 or 20, and your eyes are open to literature. And then I don’t know if [Rainer Maria] Rilke’s novel [The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge], his only novel is a great book or not, but it was one of the touchstone texts for me. I learned how to read literally in part by reading that book, and part by reading Kafka, and in part by reading Shakespeare, Ibsen another; if one can mention two playwrights in a list of five books. Because they were where I learned how to read, they remain the examples that come to mind when I’m trying to say something about literature.

So we have Ibsen and we have the Rilke novel, we have all of Kafka, we have all of Shakespeare and I think probably I’d want to say something like, [F. Scott Fitzgerald's] “The Great Gatsby,” just to make sure there’s an American on the list.

Recorded On: April 1, 2008