FRANZEN PARTY PEOPLE
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1. The crowd from our seats at Franzen. 2. Cash$Money$Prizes!!** to the person who guesses correctly: How many audience members were biding their time by reading The New Yorker?
“One isn’t brought up as a literary writer to expect this sort of thing,” Jonathan Franzen said about the vast crowd in front of him. And no, they’re not. Typically, the novelist-as-celebrity only exists for a small population of quiet, bookish people, so last night’s scene was, in a word, unprecedented.
This was a hungry crowd of, according to MediaBistro, more than 1,000 people: my accomplice and I arrived an hour early, which secured us seats maybe a hundred feet away from Franzen, too far away to even see his facial expressions. There were security guards, and Franzen had an entourage. There were rules, for godsake. How many literary events hold the possibility of pandemonium and therefore must require rules?
1. Duccio & Jimena. Duccio is from Italy and has read all four Franzen novels. 2. Dan, who feels that the most important thing he took away from reading Freedom was how incredibly long — and capricious — life is.
Franzen began by reading an abridged first chapter of his new novel, Freedom, and the audience sat rapt, charmed by his witticisms and humor. Even the security guards were smiling.
1. Christina & Joe. Joe is stoked on his FUBU shirt, Freedom, and Franzen’s birdiness. 2. Sulli, who disliked every one of the audience questions, but loves Franzen because his books are accessible, yet his aspirations are grand.
Then Franzen briefly answered a smattering of audience questions, ranging from the long and contrived (some rambly either/or question about the American family) to the annoyingly predictable (Q: Has Oprah been in touch? A: Next Question?). We did learn that Richard Katz and The Traumatics were most closely based on The Mekons (which Franzen said is his standard answer for that “annoying” question of what is his favorite band), and that a genuine concern for wild birds is something that both Freedom’s Walter and Franzen share.
In response to the last question “What’s next?” Franzen explained that his novels correspond to radical changes within himself. Which means, a long wait for us until the next one.
**There aren’t actually any Cash$Money$Prizes!! Sorry =(
–Julia Jackson is working on her MFA in fiction at Brooklyn College, and is a regular contributor for Electric Dish.