Jonathan Franzen from last night: His ten best quotes on writing, divorce and Michael Jackson

jonathan franzen.jpg
Courtesy of Macmillan
Jonathan Franzen is a great American novelist in large part because he has written a great American novel -- two, in fact. Last night's Pen & Podium lecture at the Newman Center found the charming and occasionally awkward author of Freedom touching on bird watching (an enthusiastic hobby), The Moody Blues (his favorite band at age fifteen), his mother's last words to him ("Well, you're an eccentric"), Twitter (he doesn't use it), his early sexual inexperience (shame), and the realities of turning one of those great American books into a great American HBO series. In the spaces between anecdotes, he talked about writing, plain but never quite simple.

In thirty years, Franzen has published only twenty to thirty pages inspired by his own life, he says, which makes the forty to fifty minutes he's contractually obligated to speak to an audience that much more significant. (By the end of the final Q&A section, he had run his hands through his hair with such frequency that it stood on end.)

Here are his ten best quips:

10. "You have to become a different person to write the next book. The person you are already wrote the last book."

9. "My ex-wife once accused me of stealing from her soul to write (my second book). She also asked me why my main female characters kept being killed."

8. "In my mid thirties, I was ashamed of almost everything I had done in the past fifteen years."

7. "The writer's primary job is to create meaning, and if you could somehow leave this to your characters, you'd necessarily be ignoring it yourself."

6. "There's a statement in the United States that everyone has one novel in them. That is, one autobiographical novel."


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Newman Center for the Performing Arts

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