He's got a point there, does Jonathan Franzen,>"/>
He's got a point there, does Jonathan Franzen, one of America's most important essayists and novelists, whose works include the much acclaimed Freedom and The Corrections. E-books, like Amazon's Kindle, he says, are forging a world where instant gratification trumps any sense of permanence and unalterability.
"The technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it's pretty good technology. And what's more, it will work great 10 years from now. So no wonder the capitalists hate it. It's a bad business model," Franzen said recently at a press conference at the Hay Festival in Cartagena, Columbia.
"I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn't change."
Franzen has always possessed a bit of a contrarian streak. You may recall that in September 2001, The Corrections was selected for Oprah Winfrey's book club. The author at first went along with the selection, sitting down for a lengthy interview with Oprah and appearing in B-roll footage in his hometown of St. Louis. Not long after, in an interview on National Public Radio's Fresh Air, he expressed his worry that the Oprah logo on the cover dissuaded men from reading the book:
"So much of reading is sustained in this country, I think, by the fact that women read while men are off golfing or watching football on TV or playing with their flight simulator or whatever. I worry -- I'm sorry that it's, uh -- I had some hope of actually reaching a male audience and I've heard more than one reader in signing lines now at bookstores say 'If I hadn't heard you, I would have been put off by the fact that it is an Oprah pick. I figure those books are for women. I would never touch it.' Those are male readers speaking. I see this as my book, my creation.
Soon afterward, Franzen's invitation to appear on Oprah's show was rescinded.
His latest worry is the e-book.
"Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do," Franzen said. "When I read a book, I'm handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing - that's reassuring.
"Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it's just not permanent enough."