Jonathan Franzen has been getting a lot of flack this week for lashing out against Twitter, calling it “the ultimate irresponsible medium.” Naturally the Twitterverse struck back with – what else? – the popular hashtag #jonathanfranzenhates, as a way of documenting the acclaimed authors’ many peeves. So far he’s been playfully cited as hating Tang (“It’s just Orange Juice being dishonest”), cameras (because “real pictures should be painted”), and people who hate Jar Jar Binks (“just to be difficult”).
It can’t all be griping and whining in Franzen’s world, though! We’re sure there’s got to be some stuff out there that he doesn’t actively find irritating or repulsive. Here are our best guesses as to what the Freedom writer might actually enjoy.
This is an easy one, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Clearly Franzen not only relishes his negative opinions about particular topics, but also enjoys making those opinions known as frequently as possible. Edith Wharton, e-books, literary critics – all have fallen victim to the wrath of Franzen. We suspect that his head would collapse from the weight of all those grievances if he didn’t get the chance to air them publicly.
His own books
This one’s a no-brainer, too. He’s got to like the novels he writes — otherwise, why would he have gotten so protective when stickers from Oprah’s Book Club appeared on the cover of The Corrections, saying that “I see this as my book, my creation, and I didn’t want that logo of corporate ownership on it”? At least he and Oprah patched things up, which is good because the last thing Franzen needs is a horde of Midwestern housewives getting mad at him.
In Freedom, Walter Berglund is completely obsessed with bird-watching. Apparently this fascination comes from the author’s own affinity for the activity, as evidenced by his 2005 New Yorker essay, “My Bird Problem”: “What I felt for birds went beyond love. I felt outright identification. To be hungry all the time, to be mad for sex, to be shortsighted, to spend half your life on personal grooming, to be habit-bound, etc: these were all ways of being like a bird.”
Now, isn’t that sweet? Sure, his fondness for birds once led him to entertain thoughts of kidnapping and disposing of neighboring cats, but hey, birds are nice, too! They don’t scratch up your furniture, that’s for sure.
Not being cool
Franzen doesn’t just love birds — he loves the fact that it’s not cool to love birds in our post-Portlandia society. In his recent New York Times editorial (which happens to be the one in which he lambasts Facebook for making us all into narcissists, or whatever), he further elaborates on his love of birds thusly: “It’s a long story, but basically I fell in love with birds. I did this not without significant resistance, because it’s very uncool to be a birdwatcher, because anything that betrays real passion is by definition uncool.” Sure, because clearly Franzen doesn’t relish every opportunity to take up unpopular pursuits and then brag about how lame they make him in the eyes of dispassionate proles.
In addition to his aviary addiction, Franzen is extremely committed to protecting the environment, particularly against the threat of overpopulation, the fear of which plagues Walter Berglund in Freedom. Though he denies any overt advocacy of environmentalism in his novels, he has been known to use his fame to highlight the issue, such as when he redesigned the American $10 bill to reflect the environmental cost of consumerism for a challenge put forth by the Guardian. And yes, of course there’s a bird on it. Did we mention Franzen likes birds?
Twitter would have you believe that Franzen even hates puppies, but we know there’s at least one dog he loved having around — Snoopy, the lovable pet pooch of Charles Schutlz’s Peanuts comic strip. In an essay for the Guardian entitled “Dog Days,” Franzen confessed his childhood adoration: “I had an intense, private relationship with Snoopy, the cartoon beagle,” he said. “He was a solitary not-animal animal who lived among larger creatures of a different species, which was more or less my feeling in my own house.” Do you think if we beg hard enough, we can get Franzen to recreate Snoopy’s famous dance for us? (Probably not, right?)
Franzen opens Freedom with an epigram from A Winter’s Tale, which he uses to draw comparisons between the Shakespearean tragicomedy, which explores the ruin of a marriage that is miraculously restored at the play’s end, with the tale of Walter and Patty’s relationship. He also titled his literary manifesto Perchance to Dream, after a line from the infamous Hamlet monologue, and once told the LA Times that “the difference between Shakespeare on a BlackBerry and Shakespeare in the Arden Edition is like the difference between vows taken in a shoe store and vows taken in a cathedral.” Clearly the guy’s got a thing for ol’ WillShakes.
This prolific British punk act formed in the 1970s and is still putting out albums today. The Mekons also happen to be Franzen’s favorite band, and he credits them as inspiring him in writing The Corrections. Watch him explain his love for their music in a way that only Franzen can, in an interview from the documentary Revenge of the Mekons: