Waiting for Freedom

08/26/2010 11:11 AM |

franzen.jpg

I felt a pang of jealousy when I read the opening words of Caleb Crain’s recent blog post, which read, “So like everybody else, I read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom last week, and like everybody else I loved it.” My jealousy is manifold. To start with, Freedom will not be released to general public til August 31, so Crain, who writes for The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The London Review Books, and other publications, apparently can write the phrase “everybody else” and have in mind only people whose bona fides are such that they receive advanced copies of major literary figures’ new books. I’m just not sure I’ll ever be so ensconced in the literati that when I write “everybody else” it will refer to such a
limited number of people (and one which includes the President). But then I’m also jealous because I was supposed to receive a copy of Freedom to review for The L, but have not, owing to the systematic incompetence of the Chicago Postal Service. So Crain’s post made me feel something that’s probably familiar to people who are part of the creative underclass that exists totally on the periphery of Crain’s coterie: a certain resentment of the elites, not for being elites, but because in this specific instance I was supposed to be one of them and was denied the opportunity owing to chance and circumstance.

To keep piling on ironies: I know I’m not alone in my frustration with the Chicago P.S., because Jonathan Franzen, the author of the book I was supposed to receive, wrote an essay about the woes of the Chicago P.S. called “Lost in the Mail,” in which he says that the history of the Chicago P.S. “raises serious questions about the long-term viability of both the United States Postal Service and United States Cities.”

He goes on to note that, “The inhabitants of large cities are now, more than ever, second-class citizens.” Amen to that. Franzen compares the rhetoric, i.e. the pattern of excuses, of the Chicago P.S. with the kind of double-speak that’s symptomatic of dysfunctional families, listing twelve different types of responses the Chicago P.S. has to criticism, including my favorite; “The people who get the most mail […] complain the most.”

My editor Mark Asch is finally, reluctantly sending The L’s “desk copy” of Freedom my way. I hope it gets here. [And I hope he sends it back. —Ed.] Mark surely deserves some sort of Editorial Mensch Award for dealing with all this—this isn’t the first time books sent to me have not arrived and so not the first time that Mark has had to inundate innocent and well-meaning publishers with communiqués that resemble telephone conversations between geriatrics who have only just discovered email: “Did you send it? Are you sure you sent it? It’s not there, can you send it again? Even if you already sent it, I’m asking you to send it again.”

So thanks Mark. A review of Freedom is forthcoming… hopefully.

4 Comment

  • During the late 1990s, I lived in the 60640 area code and at no other time in my life have so many packages and letters people claimed to have sent me gone missing.

    On the upside, I just started Freedom this morning (after waiting for several days for my wife to finish it, the copy we have being hers) and it is in fact pretty great so far.

  • Hey, I was being ironic! I had the feeling that the onslaught of commentary on Franzen was about to be overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure anyone needed to read me piling on. Thus the “everyone else.” You’re right, though, I do take for granted the privilege of reading books before they come out, but I’ve been reviewing books for 15 years, and being sent lots of galleys is sort of the tin watch they give you for continued service. I had no idea it might sound fa-la-la. “O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!” as Burns wrote, in his poem about a louse.

  • I can see you were being ironic and self-deprecating in situating your post in terms of a torrent of Franzenalia. I’m not so sure, though, you were being ironic in using “everyone else” to refer solely to other cultural commentators. But that could be a weak misreading.
    Anyway, I meant it all in good fun and certainly wasn’t implying you’re a louse! (Thanks for the poem, by the way, hadn’t read it before.)

  • No worries. I had the suspicion that you might be being somewhat ironic as well.