Saturday, August 14, 2010

Jonathan Franzen Cover Story from Time / Access to Time Content Online

Great cover story in the latest issue of Time Magazine... too bad it's not easy to access (more on that later, though).

Titled "Jonathan Franzen: Great American Novelist", the piece is an extremely well done profile by Lev Grossman. Franzen received enormous acclaim for his 2001 "The Corrections" and the upcoming publication of his 10 years in the waiting follow-up "Freedom" is what's put him on the cover of Time. Interestingly enough, it's the first time since Stephen King in 2000 that a living novelist has had a Time cover feature.

I was interested to see this story on Franzen both from the perspective of such attention being paid a writer and because after my having read "The Corrections" halfway through (it's quite the massive book), I find Franzen to be just a brilliant writer. As Grossman makes mention of, Franzen doesn't write of amazing topics or extraordinary abilities held by his subjects, but he just writes such great and authentic prose about what could be called "the human condition"... life as people live it.

Within the piece itself, what struck me the most was the work involved in Franzen's craft. After many initial false starts and abandoned roads travelled down, the author wrote "Freedom" over the course of 12 or so months filled with 6 or 7 day weeks starting early and going late. The physical writing of the book took place in a barren office on a notebook computer with it's Internet capability permanently and irrevocably broken off by Franzen to avoid distractions. Not messing around, this guy.

I also found intriguing Franzen's description of the social usefullness of reading and the focus and committment required for someone to immerse themselves in a book. Really it's a concept that I feel to be true in general with reading and writing, and a different kind of true with fiction reading and writing. I don't think fiction better than non-fiction or vice versa, but rather that both types of reading a worthwhile endevour that one doesn't get from easier to digest media like movies or television. I definitely lean towards non-fiction reading on maybe a 90-10 basis, but also think it important for any serious reader or writer to keep a place for both, and Franzen may well be carrying the torch right now in the field of fiction writing.


Another piece from this issue of Time I found memorable was the last page essay by Joel Stein. "Bring On the Elites!" critiques (and makes fun of) the popular notion of "anyone is qualified for anything" as personified by the blogosphere (and I'd say current Presidential wanna-be from Alaska, but that's a different topic).


As I alluded to early in this post, though... ability to read either the Stein column or Grossman profile might be a bit limited.

Should you go to the URL for most Time Magazine stories these days, you'll get a few paragraphs of the original piece followed by something to the effect of "This is an abridged version of an article that appears in the August 23, 2010, print and iPad editions of TIME magazine" and then an invitation to buy the hardcopy issue or the iPad pad.

So, it's not even a paywall that Time's instituting... instead it's an "invitation" for someone reading something in one media (online through whatever non-iPad vehicle) to stop everything and either (A) find a store where they can hope to find the hardcopy issue, (B) pay what I believe is the inflated price of $5/issue to read on the iPad or (C) drop $500 to buy an iPad... (since, apparently unbeknownst to the decision makers at Time, Inc., not everyone owns one now) and then the inflated $5/issue price.

Please... nice way to restrict readers from viewing your content.