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Gary Shteyngart seems like an awesome guy. We have friends in common; I met him once and he was nice. Articles about him paint him as thoughtful and interesting. He was on No Reservations! I thought his book trailer was hilarious (yes, even though it joked about exploiting girls’ college students). I like him. Until now, I’ve never read one of his books, though.

It’s not that I didn’t like Super Sad True Love Story. Or, it’s not that I don’t think it’s a good book. I do. I think it’s really good. It’s super smart, as well as super sad. Read the rest of this entry »

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Historically, I have been a hater.

In Paul Russell’s Narrative Writing class, 2002-3 (for the record, probably my favorite college course), we read The Corrections in preparation for Jonathan Franzen’s much-anticipated visit to campus. We all thought it was varying degrees of okay. As I remember, no one loved it. I remember being put off by a certain smugness that I felt characterized the prose, and by the treatment of the female characters. Can I back that up now? No–I don’t remember the book very well. That, I think, says a lot about it, too.

When Mr. Franzen arrived on campus, there was a huge audience of students, faculty and other spectators waiting for him. He headed up to the front of the Villard Room and proceeded to spend–I kid you not–at least 5 minutes trying to balance a Poland Spring water bottle on the slanted surface of his podium. He had to have been on something. A student finally stood up, carried his chair up to the podium, took the water bottle out of Mr. Franzen’s hand, and put it down on the chair. It was one of the most horrifyingly awkward moments I’ve ever witnessed. Next came Mr. Franzen’s admission that he hadn’t prepared anything. He said something like, “So I tried to come up with something on the train ride up here and I couldn’t do it.” Uh, awesome.

In the aftermath of this mortifying event, we were allowed to skip the Q&A session in a parlor we were previously supposed to attend lest we say something too horrible, and were subsequently banned from every mentioning Jonathan Franzen or The Corrections again in class. We were allowed to go around the table and complain once, and then never again. I’ve made up for those few months of silence by being fairly vocal about ┬ámy dislike of Mr. Franzen and his work ever since.

UNTIL I READ FREEDOM.

I read it despite my bad feelings about Mr. Franzen because since when does literary fiction get this much attention? Magazine covers, bazillions of articles, controversy (would this book get so much attention if it were written by a woman, etc. etc.). And you know what? Even though plenty of OTHER books deserve way more attention than they get and that’s a problem I’d love to discuss, let’s not say that Mr. Franzen doesn’t deserve it for this book. It’s fucking fantastic. Read the rest of this entry »