Tag Archives: Jonathan Franzen

A profound connection with an imaginary world

Serious readers, [Shirley Brice] Heath tells [Jonathan Franzen], come in two flavors: either their parents modeled serious reading for them as children, or, far less commonly, they were “social isolates” who found in books a profound connection with an imaginary world that supplanted a daily environment in which they felt they had no place. The latter description, apparently, fits Franzen to a T, and he is relieved to hear Heath tell him that readers who came to books to cure their social isolation are more likely than other kinds of readers to become writers. Soon afterward, his writer’s block is cured and his stalled third novel begins to click along.

Michael Bourne,
discussing Franzen’s 1996 essay, “Perchance to Dream

Violating the contract

In his essay “Mr. Difficult,” [Jonathan] Franzen presents two models of how fiction and readers relate: the Status and Contract models. The Status model says that “the best novels are great works of art, the people who manage to write them deserve extraordinary credit, and if the average reader rejects the work it’s because the average reader is a philistine.” The Contract model says, “difficulty is a sign of trouble. In the most grievous cases, it may convict an author of violating the contract with his own community; of placing his self-expressive imperatives or his personal vanity or his literary-club membership ahead of the audience’s legitimate desire for connection—of being, in other words, an asshole.”

Scott F. Parker