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Franzenfreude: Valid Criticism or Sour Grapes?

518lzyVIezL._SL160_Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, Freedom hits shelves tomorrow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 576pgs), though the media has been furiously buzzing about the title for weeks. The New York Times has published two rave reviews about the tale of a dysfunctional family; Sam Tanenhaus proclaims the books “a masterpiece of American fiction”, while Michiko Kakutani applauds Franzen’s “ability to throw open a big, Updikean picture window on American middle-class life.”  Earlier this month, the author was featured on the cover of Time magazine as a “Great American Novelist”, and President Barack Obama got an early copy of the book to take on a recent vacation. Yet, with all this love, there are some, like authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, who feel the “Franzenfrenzy” coverage, especially in the New York Times, is overblown and biased. They also feel that the media would do better by focusing on the works of a wide range of authors, with varied backgrounds, instead of one literary star. The pair have turned to Twitter to voice their opinions on the subject using the hashtag #franzenfreude. “Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren’t white male literary darlings,” tweeted Picoult. Weiner asked her Twitter followers to suggest “non-Franzen novels about love, identity, families”, such as her pick, Digging to America by Anne Tyler.

On their website, NYTPicker, criticized Picoult for having a bias of her own against the New York Times since its 2008 review of her book Change of Heart was harshly critical. “The NYT has long made it clear that they value literary fiction and disdain commercial fiction – and they disparage it regardless of race or gender of the author,” the author responded in an e-mail. “I’m not commenting on one specific critic or even on my own reviews (which are few and far between because I write commercial fiction).” Again pushing for diversity, Picoult stated: “It is my personal opinion that yes, the Times favors white male authors…How else can the Times explain the fact that white male authors ROUTINELY are assigned reviews in both the Sunday review section AND the daily book review section (often both raves), while so many other writers go unnoticed by their critics?”

What do you think about the New York Times coverage of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom? Would the newspaper better serve the public by featuring more diverse and deserving authors? Leave a comment below to let us know.

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