Why I HATE Jonathan Franzen

Good, because haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate!

A couple years ago, I published one of my most popular blog posts–my rant on why I can’t stand Nicholas Sparks. And while my loathing for him is still going strong, I want to spend today extending my annoyance to another author dominating the industry…Jonathan Franzen.

Well-known for his novels The Corrections (2001) and Freedom (2010), I’m aware that writing this rant could come back to bite me in the ass in the future. Franzen, after all, has been labeled a “Great American Novelist” by TIME magazine. His net worth is estimated into the tens of millions. He’s got a *lot* of opinions, and he certainly isn’t afraid to share them with the world.

Too bad, he’s full of crap.

Need proof? Behold, my reasons why I HATE Jonathan Franzen:

1. He’s a book snob. I appreciate Franzen’s respect for journalists and the print media they produce, but that doesn’t mean that online communication is evil. You know that you’re out of touch with the world when you call the Internet a “bloodsucking monster squid.” Sure, I prefer paperbacks to ebooks, but without social media networks like Twitter and Goodreads, I never would have stumbled upon new books and authors–not to mention have virtually met all of my wonderful followers! That world of bloggers you despise so much is the same one praising your own work. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, Franzen.

2. He’s a sexist book snob. Case in point: his long-standing feud with Jennifer Weiner, whom he believes is “freeloading on the legitimate problem of gender bias in the canon.” You know, the legitimate problem from which he gains a massive amount of privilege. The same gender bias that consistently places him at the top of the NYT bestseller list while hordes of female authors get stuck with cutesy covers because they’re deemed ‘commercial’ rather than ‘literary’ writers.

See what I mean?

If I ever felt guilty for hating on Franzen without actually reading a single word of his, I just refer to the fact that he’s committed the exact same sin:

I have yet to hear one person say, “Oh, she’s really good, you should read her.” And basically if two people say that about a book I’ll read it. I know no one, male or female, who says, “You’ve got to read Jennifer Weiner.”

Maybe if Franzen spent more time supporting female authors and less time huffing and puffing over why gender discrimination is, like, just not his problem, man, then he wouldn’t come off as such a jerk.

Because of course men can’t write about young women without replicating Lolita. It’s not creepy, you are.

3. He definitely doesn’t put the “sex” in sexist. I find it ironic that Franzen believes he’s better than all those romance novelists like Weiner, and yet he can’t write a love scene to save his life. Here’s an example, courtesy of fellow Franzen hater Madeleine Davies from Jezebel:

Click on the link above to read more tidbits, but you’ve been warned! I want to bleach my eyes after laying them on that horror. Dare I say, Franzen makes E.L. James look good!

4. Did I mention he’s sexist? One of my favorite books of all time is The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (an award, I should add, that Franzen has yet to win).

You would think that Franzen could recognize such genius, but alas, you’d be wrong. What did Franzen decide to write in The New Yorker on Wharton’s 150th birthday?

Edith Newbold Jones did have one potentially redeeming disadvantage: she wasn’t pretty.

Nothing says literary appreciation like calling a writer ugly and sexually ignorant! But wait! There’s more!

Lacking good looks and the feminine charms that might have accompanied them, she eventually became, in every sense but one, the man of her house.

Ah yes, the only reason why Wharton became a renowned writer is because she was practically a man! Silly me to forget that pretty women are worthless when it comes to putting pen to paper.

Instead of publishing a kind commemoration, Franzen managed to objectify a woman who has been dead for almost 80 years. Classy!

So yes, just like with Nicholas Sparks, I haven’t read Jonathan Franzen–and after witnessing this misogyny, I don’t intend to. I’m sure that there are plenty of straight, white, male authors who reach great levels of success without demeaning women or other marginalized populations, but these men clearly do not qualify.

What are your thoughts? Is Franzen one of your fav writers or just a literary frat bro? Were you aware of his less-than-admirable opinions, and does it change how you see him? Share your love or hate in the comments!

Please let this be sarcasm…

Top Ten Quotes from My Favorite Books

Meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is about our favorite quotes from literature. Books have the power to put your deepest, most complex thoughts into words that stick with you for your entire life.

I’ve separated these ten quotes into three categories: existential ideas that make you think, timeless adages that make you appreciate each moment, and heart-wrenching words that make you pine for love and mourn its absence.

Let me know what you think of these quotes, and feel free to add your own!

Evoking Existentialism

1. Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik

2. The Stranger by Albert Camus

3. Demian by Hermann Hesse

The Traveling of Time

4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

6. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Love and Loss

7. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

8. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

10. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

The House of Mirth: Book One

Cover of "The House of Mirth (Signet Clas...

Cover of The House of Mirth (Signet Classics)

Earlier this week, one of my favorite television shows, “Gossip Girl,” ended after six seasons. The program, which spotlighted the lives of New York City’s social elite, was influenced heavily by Edith Wharton’s work. The characters once reenacted The Age of Innocence in a school play, and one couple in the show, Lily and Bart Bass, were named after the protagonist of The House of Mirth, Lily Bart.

Wharton was a perfect inspiration for the teen TV hit, since she grew up among the power-players. As I’ve stated in my review of The Age of Innocence, her family originated the saying “keeping up with the Joneses.” This Pulitzer Prize-winning author became the voice of the wealthiest Americans of the early 20th century.

The House of Mirth (1905) begins with Lily Bart, a single woman in her late 20s, suffering from gambling debt. Raised by a father who experienced financial ruin and a mother who resented him for their “dingy” lifestyle, Lily is a on a mission to find a rich husband.

Lily knows just how beautiful she is, so she decides to work her feminine charms on multiple prospects. There’s Percy Gryce, a well-to-do but dull bachelor; Gus Trenor, a married man who helps with Lily’s investments; and Lawrence Selden, a man with passion instead of a fortune.

Book One does an excellent job of introducing the many characters, with plenty of details about their family backgrounds, financial situations, and style of dress. Fitting into this elite world proves increasingly more difficult, given that every little mistake is noted and gossiped around town at lightning speed. Lily’s confidence in scaling the social ladder fluctuates every day, depending on whether she garners male attention and a steady income.

On one hand, you want Lily to achieve happiness, but on the other, you have to shake your head at her foolish methods. Her vanity gives her a sense of entitlement, and her penchant for flirting with men for money without acknowledging the danger of that exchange gets her into even more trouble.

I’m a sucker for ‘fallen woman’ stories which highlight the battle between love and money, but as I’m halfway through this novel, I must say that although The House of Mirth is a well-written critique of New York’s upper class, it doesn’t hold up against The Age of Innocence. There’s enough drama and backstabbing in this literary soap opera, but so far it lacks the romance as seen between Newland and Ellen.

Lily reminds me of Madame Bovary, in the sense that both women play a large role in their respective demises. Even though the novels don’t have the fast-paced action many modern readers require, I love the social commentary because I feel that much of it is still relevant today. We are often just as concerned with reputation as these characters of 100 years ago. And as much as we’d like to think we choose significant others out of love, finances are still important in making and maintaining marriages.

I’m looking forward to finishing my last book of the year, but if I’m going to meet my goal, I better stop blogging and start reading Book Two! Keep an eye out for my review, and my recap of the 25 novels I read in 2012!

Book Review: The Innocents

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

I was pleased with Francesca Segal’s The Innocents, her modern adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Wharton’s novel is one of my favorites, and you can read my review here.

To sum up the original story, it follows the forbidden romance between Newland Archer, engaged to the simple-minded May Welland, and Ellen Olenska, May’s scandalous cousin. It’s a quintessential battle between love and societal obligation.

Segal’s version is basically the same plot, but swaps the New York elite of the 1870s for the Jewish community in today’s London.  Adam Newman is also a lawyer, and the object of his desire Ellie Schneider faces similar judgment for her provocative behavior.

But even if you’ve read The Age of Innocence, Segal provides an engaging adaptation with plenty of unique aspects. No one can compete with Wharton’s prose, but Segal’s writing is insightful, offering cultural commentary on what it’s like to be part of a Jewish family.

The characters were also multidimensional: You feel angry with Adam’s quickness to commit adultery, but at the same time, you understand his frustration from passively submitting to his high school sweetheart-fiance instead of experiencing more of the world.

The Innocents is an apt reminder that lovers not only enter into a relationship with each other, but also with one another’s friends and family. It’s so important to know who you are and what you want, because although you should respect those closest to you, you should not let them dictate how to live your life.

I won’t spoil the ending, but Wharton fans won’t be surprised. Adam soon realizes what’s at stake when a whirlwind of lust threatens his solidifying future, and I enjoyed his emotional journey as he decides whether to take the risk. Wharton will always be queen of her story, but Segal certainly makes the royal court.

Book Review: Madame Bovary

Cover via GreatAudioBooks.Net

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I’m finally finished!!! Although I have to admit, I usually don’t take this long to finish a book, because if I really like it, I will make time for it, school and work be damned. That means, of course, that I didn’t love this book–but it was very good nonetheless.

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert’s first novel published in 1857, is about Emma Bovary, a French woman stuck in a miserable marriage to an incompetent, middle-class doctor. Bored out of her mind with a husband she doesn’t love and a daughter she never wanted, she decides to commit adultery and spend outside of her means to desperately fill her life with lust and wealth.

Much like Chopin’s The Awakening, this novel polarizes readers depending on their thoughts on adultery. Since I understand how powerless women were during the 19th century, I don’t blame Emma for having wandering eyes. She was brought up believing that marriage would complete her and her father pushed her to marry young. Her husband is also a cowardly twit who sucks at his profession–he lost a man’s leg trying to cure his limp. If I was faced with the choice between him and Emma’s passionate lovers Rodolphe and Leon, I’d make her same decision.

However, Emma is not entirely blameless. I also suffer from her grass-is-always-greener personality, but she has impossible expectations of love and happiness. In modern terms, she’s a Stage Five Clinger. Her naivete made it easy for her lovers to take advantage of her, and her neediness pushed them away.

She was also convinced that if she isn’t floating on clouds in post-orgasmic bliss, she’s in a hell-hole of misery–when in fact, life mostly varies in the grey area in-between. Many scholars have labeled Emma as bipolar, given her extreme mood-swings, but if you read enough 19th century literature, her personality is common among female protagonists (ex. Catherine in Wuthering Heights).

Madame Bovary was not nearly as good as other novels about adultery, like The Awakening or The Age of Innocence, perhaps because Emma in part deserved her demise, and her lovers were not worthy of her attention. I was not rooting for anybody while I was reading, so I felt little sadness at the end.

I also found it interesting that even though the novel is titled Madame Bovary, it begins and ends with her husband. It’s tragic that in a book about her, she is still defined by the men in her life. The reading experience was cathartic for me: I pity Emma for her lack of freedom, and I fear her circumstances happening to me. Because if anyone argues that women don’t suffer from male oppression anymore, they’re greatly mistaken. Feminism has come a long way, but smart, beautiful, successful women are still pressured to believe that if they don’t marry and have kids, they’re worthless.

That being said, I appreciated the novel’s beautiful prose (even in a diluted English translation). Flaubert is obviously a master of his craft, and his legendary commitment in perfecting his writing definitely shows in his first novel. I wish I would’ve read this in college, because scholarly discussion is half the fun. I would still recommend this book, but only to those who appreciate literary masterpieces, even if they take forever to finish!

Favorite Quote: “Each smile hid a yawn of boredom, each joy a curse, each pleasure its own disgust; and the sweetest kisses only left on one’s lips a hopeless longing for a higher ecstasy.”

Reasons Why You Need to Read

Read the Rainbow…

Now chances are, if you read my blog, you like to read. So I know I’m probably preaching to the choir, but I just finished teaching a summer SAT prep class today, and the #1 thing I tell my students is to READ. If you don’t read, start, and if you do read, do it more! Nothing makes me sadder than when I ask people, “What’s your favorite book?” and they say, “I don’t know.” Not in a “I don’t know, because there’s so many to choose from!” kind of way, but in a “I don’t know, because the last things I read were the headlines of TMZ and the nutritional facts on my Cheerios box” kind of way.

So if you’re not equally as depressed as I am by the lack of bookworms in our world, here’s some reasons why you should read the good stuff:

  1. You learn new words. Do you know what a coquette is? How about a misanthropist? Has anyone called you bonny, ignoble, lachrymose, or sanguine? If you think I’m just making words up right now, then your vocab could use some work. I learned all these terms while reading Wuthering Heights a few years ago–and yes, before you ask, I kept a running list of all the words I didn’t know and looked them up in the dictionary. The document is still on my computer, ready whenever I need a quick review. Nerdy? Yes, but you’re just jaundiced.
  2. You learn about history. I never remember historical events like I remember the authors who wrote about them. Ancient Greece? Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides. Victorian England? Dickins. 1920s? Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I wouldn’t understand the Renaissance or the World Wars nearly as much if it wasn’t for my connection to the stories representing them.
  3. You learn about true emotion. If you think “The Bachelor” is an accurate representation of true love, then you are a pitiful human being. The literary classics are classic precisely because their themes are just as important now as they were back then. I’m a big crybaby, and no star-crossed lovers can match Catherine and Heathcliff, or Newland and Countess Olenska. No pain is more heart-wrenching than in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. You can’t even say you know what a woman scorned looks like until you read Medea. So if you’re one of those people who gets their drama fix from Jerry Springer, this blog is not for you.

Naturally, there are dozens more reasons out there, but it’s getting late, and I’d rather just let you add to the list! What did I leave out?

Oh, and if you thought I’d give you the definitions of those words, sorry! That would take all the fun out of it! Now get off your butt, grab a book, and READ!!!