Jonathan Franzen Meets Oprah: Nine Years In The Making

It has been nine years since the world’s greatest modern American author was disinvited from appearing on Oprah for a comment he made about her book club sticker. The past September, Oprah announced that Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, “Freedom,” was chosen as a 2010 Oprah Book Club selection. Today, Franzen finally made his Oprah appearance and it lasted all of five minutes.

Jonathan Franzen Meets Oprah: Nine Years In The Making

When “The Corrections” was named an Oprah book club selection in 2001, it was a guarantee that the novel would sell a massive amount of units. Oprah’s sticker on a book guarantees success. In reality, “The Corrections” would have become a best seller regardless of Oprah.

In an interview, Jonathan Franzen essentially said that he did not want Oprah’s sticker on his book because he did not want to dissuade men from reading the book. The comment was taken out of context and once word got back to Oprah, Franzen was immediately disinvited from Oprah, no questions asked. When Franzen won the National Book Award in 2001, he thanked Oprah in his speech.

I’ve met Mr. Franzen on two occasions and both times when I briefly spoke to him, he came across as an extremely introspective and humble person. Franzen had an almost awkwardly mellow demeanor and when he spoke he did so with authority and deft—a self prescribed “Midwestern egalitarian.”

Today, when Franzen appeared on Oprah, he did so for roughly 5 minutes. When Obama invited Franzen to the White House, he was given twenty minutes to speak with our country’s leader.

There was an obvious awkwardness during today’s episode. The tension between Oprah and Franzen seemed tangible. “Oprah and Franzen are not terribly compatible personalities, and from 4:40 to 4:44, we were treated to a Dr. Phil-style hashing-out of their past media-facilitated bad relationship. From 4:44 to 4:47 we watched commercials, and at 4:47 there commenced the literary part of the discussion, which lasted until 4:52,” Macy Halford wrote in her blog for the New Yorker.

Oprah had full access to one of the most important writers of our time and only spent five minutes discussing his masterpiece novel. Disgraced writer James Frey was given almost two entire episodes.

When Franzen was asked about “The Corrections” debacle, he responded, “The big thing I learned from the experience was to have more respect for television. Writers resent television because its so omnipresent. You don’t remember how to communicate on a television level.”

After discussing “Freedom” for five minutes, Franzen was sent to go sit in the audience while Oprah discussed her new Book Club pick “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Great Expectations.”

Oprah asked Franzen, “Have you read Dickens?” to which he replied, “Yes. All of them.” When asked about the new Book Club selection, Franzen offered, “Oh Yeah. A real page turner.”