Thursday, March 29, 2012

Man Enough

Hi everyone. Just a note before we get into today's story that I'll be on vacation next week, which means a vacation from the blog too. If you miss me, just find a picture of a corgi and think of me fondly.

Anyway, on to today's story! Man Enough is an excerpt from a novel by Kevin Christopher, a writer from New Orleans who currently lives in California. He's a self-described "drifter" and writes and creates "passionately." Enjoy!

Man Enough
By Kevin Christopher

My brother Casey and I were inseparable. I was twelve and he was seven at the time. Our father drank heavily. I assumed by his erratic behavior he had more then just a drinking issue. Our Mom was a nurse who spent the majority of her time working at the oddest hours. I recalled constantly asking myself if she really knew what we dealt with while she was away. Then I would think that maybe she decided that she would look the other way, making herself believe we were fine. I no longer had to wonder though. My once wandering thoughts became an apparent truth. As the bruises began to increase, her presence in our home lessened dramatically. For me, she had now become a thought. I likened her love to the soft Seattle drizzle that fell in view of the streetlights’ evening glow. I was sure her love was there, but the feel of it was so faint I was indifferent to it. Unmoved by her presence, or lack thereof, my life went on.

I felt a tinge of pain as I watched my younger brother long for his mother. I questioned if it even mattered at times, since she was only a hallowed shell of a mother. She had left us alone to handle whatever the days brought. She favored my younger brother more than me, even if it was only slightly. Still, it never placed a rift between Casey and myself. I imagine it didn’t because he was unaware, and I unconcerned. I figured that she had known just how horrible my father was, that somehow, my being the oldest would predestine me to be a protector. Ultimately, that I would save my brother from the bulk of any beating. So naturally she would opt for the longest work hours imaginable, or so I concluded. She underestimated her husband’s cruelty, however. I soon lost my desire to care what her reasons were for not being there, or for her in general, I became focused more closely on how to make it through each day.

My father often left as well. He left us with tender kisses on the forehead, although he never returned with quite the same affection. Instead, he returned loudly while we slept.

”Where’s my wife? Where my boys?” He’d call out as he stumbled around creating thunderous thuds. After his loud commotions, he would become more settled. This meant it would be time to perform in order for us to get rest. Sometimes, we amused him enough to the point he would allow us back to bed. I could count on one hand how many times that occurred. Majority of the time there was no way for him to be amused, no matter what we did or how hard we’d try. These were the times that he’d wake us up so that he could beat us back to sleep. Oddly enough, I accepted this as an alternative way to be caring.

It was a shame that he did not give us a clue as to which person we were encountering. His true self was internal, somewhere lost in the deep. His facial expressions remained unchanged. There were times I believed he could have potentially been a good father. He never failed to correct my twisted moments of ambiguity, by displaying the true tormentor he was. I was much younger then, and didn’t really know what was going on with him. I did know, however, that when he would leave it would be in our best interest to avoid him at all cost.

Nightfall became synonymous with uneasiness. It never failed each night as the sun would slowly creep away into the distance, I would feel each irregular deep-pitted movement within my core. I would hear the sped up pace of my heart, I could count each breath I took. I lost all hunger and desire to do anything. As hard as I tried, there existed no escape from him. I cringed at the reflection I witnessed in the mirror each day. I cowered at the call of his name because it was my own.

“Junior and Casey. Get in here now,” he declared. I hesitated, and my brother watched me for my movements. I knew what was coming, but I still was afraid. There was no possible way to avoid the inevitable. More importantly, I could not let Casey know I was afraid. There was no good reason for him to look to me for support, unless for the fact I was the only one around to look to. I was no hero.

“Who left this shit all over the place?” My father yelled.

“Dad. Casey is younger than me so,” an involuntary pause had arisen through my words ”its my fault.”

“Standing tall like a hero savior for your little brother? I like that type of attitude, it gets me hot.” Like a crazed mad man he began smacking himself in the face until his hand left a red mark upon his cheek. “Woooooo! Nothing to say, now?”

“Take this beer, boy. Drink it up.” He handed me a beer and I began taking large gulps. It burned as it went down leaving a sour after taste that was unbearable.

“C’mon just like that, boy. Get ‘er done! Drink it all, superman.”

When this happened the first time I was fooled, I thought he was in an abnormally good mood. I thought he was genuinely just having fun with us. I knew better this time around, it was only preparation. He was hyping himself up.

“How do you feel?” he asked superficially concerned.

“Okay. I guess,” I answered.

“Just okay? Well take this. We gonna’ make sure you good.” He tossed me another beer to drink. “Don’t worry Casey, your Mama won’t find out. One day you’ll out drink your brother. He’s a sissy anyway.”

I disregarded his comments and I began chugging the beer; I knew it would numb any pain that would come. I suppose in a way that was the good-natured father in him, however twisted it may have been.

“Ok, last one. Let’s race this time. You want to shotgun it, or drink it reg‘lar?”

“Shotgun,” I said reluctantly. I knew that was what he wanted to hear.

“That’s my boy! Ready, steady, go.” There was no way I could beat him, he was a large adult, not to mention a lush. We both knew the tuth, but that wasn’t enough to hamper my attempt. Driven by the fact that I could see Casey from the corner of my eye secretly cheering me on, coupled with my father’s pseudo compliment of ‘that’s my boy,’ solidified my decision. I pushed it to the limit. Our small moral victories were all we would have against him, so I needed to win no matter how ridiculous it was.

“Finished,” I proclaimed as I slammed the beer can down. My legs felt woozy beneath me.

“Yaaay!” Casey let out a naïve cheer.

“What,” muttered my father compounding his question with a belch. “You beat me, you little shit? You’ve been drinking behind my back. He pointed at Casey but his disorientation made him point past him instead, “and you helped him.”

“So you really are superman tonight, huh boy?”

I sighed, knowing that I had made a costly mistake “If you say so,” I said. The alcohol had given me a splash of courage. Whatever I said I decided it was irrelevant anyway.

“A smartass superman. You must want me to enjoy this,” said My father.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Trend Games

This weekend, like so many of you, I went to see The Hunger Games. (It's good; go see it if you haven't already!)

The hype around this movie has been insane. It's everywhere. Like with Twilight, as big as the book was, a movie adaptation makes it even bigger. Teens who don't usually read suddenly pick up the book in anticipation of the movie. Adults who don't read YA want to see what all the fuss is about. These types of readers are rarely changed for life. They likely won't pick up another YA until the next HUGE THING gets optioned for a movie.

For writers, something similar happens. There are YA writers who suddenly decide to write in the movie's genre or Adult writers who give YA a go because YA breeds the biggest hits right now. The problem with this mentality is that the book world and the film world are two different things.

There's an episode of Scrubs in which, on a slow day at the hospital, the gang sees an announcement on the news for a Sars-like epidemic. Suddenly, the hospital is flooded with hypochondriacs who think they have symptoms of the disease. This is what movie adaptations of popular books is like.

It's no surprise that I love Harry Potter. I love it not only because the books are well-written and the story is timeless, but also because of what this series meant to literature. Yes, Young Adult existed - just barely - before Harry Potter was published in 1998, and (as I've pointed out before) there were certainly popular YA titles in the late '90s and early '00s. But it wasn't until the overwhelming, Beatle-mania-level popularity of Harry Potter that YA became a legitimate force in literature, complete with its own section in the bookstore and bestseller list in the New York Times

Unfortunately, there is one thing I can't quite forgive J.K. Rowling for, and that's her creation of "the trend." More than in adult fiction - and perhaps because teens themselves latch onto trends more than adults - the YA market is often built around one huge concept. Before Harry, YA was full of stories about teens finding their voices. Some novels took more chances than others, some were darker, some were genre fiction gems, but for the most part they were contemporary stories that came of age with the term Young Adult itself.

Harry showed the world that YA could go beneath the surface of what being a teen is like. Taking us to a land of magic and showing us the powers of family and friendship, YA was able to become a more nuanced genre. The formerly quiet Young Adult market needed a while to get a hold of what Harry did to it, and once it recovered the timing was right for Twilight to take over. In the book world, The Boy Who Lived was so five minutes ago by 2005. While the rest of the world enjoyed our wizards, we book dwellers found vampires. Not the vampires adults were used to. YA needed their turn with them, so enter Twilight. For better or worse, YA was all about cute dead boys and the girls who loved them. As followers of the publishing industry, you don't need to be told what happened next: Paranormal Romance Overload.

After a few adaptations of the books that started our obsession with vamps, werewolves, and all those paranormal dreamboats, the book industry was once again ready to move on. So in the midst of the later Twilight books and the early Twilight movies, readers moved on to the next next big thing - The Hunger Games - and it's been all dystopia all the time ever since.

Which brings me back to the The Hunger Games movie. Despite claims of following agents on Twitter and reading industry blogs, it seems every querying writer who writes in a trend consciously ignores our insider knowledge that the market is too saturated for them to join the club. The justification that I most often see in queries is "because of the success of the movies..." What trend-hoppers don't realize is that the popularity of a movie does not effect their likelihood of getting - or not getting - published. That's not to say movies don't help immensely with sales of already-published books within the genre. They also can help start trends within the movie industry. But, we don't work in the movie industry.

When a book like Harry, Twilight, or The Hunger Games becomes so big that it single-handedly creates a trend, the next logical step is for that book to become a movie. Writers should think of film adaptations as the equivalent of your parents joining Facebook. Millions of people were already enjoying it, but anything exclusive or cool about it is over the second it crosses over to a different audience. Books start trends; films end them.

Twilight wasn't fantasy and The Hunger Games wasn't paranormal romance. The Next Big Thing won't be in the same genre as the current trend, so jump off the train, start something new, and be what's next.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

You Cannot Kill a Swan

I'm excited to bring you today's story, an excerpt from a historical novel in the style of the Russians called You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan. The author, Carrie-Ann Brownian, is a self-proclaimed Russophile and writes primarily 20th century historical fiction and dabbles in sci-fi. The excerpt she's sharing with us is from the first chapter of her novel, titled "Storm on the Horizon." The novel tells the story of Lyuba, who after rejecting the marriage proposal of Ivan, tells him to pretend their romance never happened. Hope you enjoy!

Storm on the Horizon 
(from You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan)
By Carrie-Anne Brownian

That afternoon, while Lyuba sets out on the long walk home, Ginny runs away. They don’t see him again until they’re in front of Lyuba’s house. Lyuba’s jaw drops when she sees him getting out of a van. She recognizes several of the children at the windows as children of neighborhood Bolshevik families, including Georgiya Yuriyevna Stalina, the top pupil in Ginny’s class.

“You were in a car driven by Them!” she admonishes him. “Where’s your loyalty to your own family? We support the Tsar as Christ on Earth while you cavort around with the people who coerced him into abdication! You can go in yourself. We won’t hold the door for traitors.”

“Was it true what Ginny said at lunch?” Ivan demands as they go inside. “That you let Borís put his arm around you yesterday?”

Lyuba steps into the living room with him and shuts the door while Boris is pulling out another bowl of egg salad and Ginny is helping himself to cookies. “How the hell many times do I have to tell you our relationship is over? We had a wonderful month together, but thank God my mother was able to get me to see sense before things went too far. Just because I still love and wish I could marry you doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for me. I need a man like Boris, without lofty ambitions and silly romantic dreams about starting our own farm. Do you realize how poor we’d be if we left everything behind and started all over again in a foreign country? It might take ten or twenty years to save up enough money for that mythical farm you’re always talking about! And having nine children on top of that? I wasn’t made to be a wife and mother, and even if I did want that, you know full well what my degenerate father did to me. I love how you treated me so special, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t know what to do if I had to stay forever with a man who treated me so wonderfully instead of abusing me. I’m too used to being hurt and abused by men. The sooner you get it through your head that I’m no longer your girlfriend, the better.”

“But I love you. You’re the only girl I’ve ever kissed, held, caressed, seen naked, slept in the same bed as, or said ‘I love you’ to. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“This is the twentieth century, Ivan. A new world order is coming. Soon it’ll be seen as laughably old-fashioned to expect to marry the first and only person you ever have feelings for or do those things with. But we’re still best friends, even if we’re no longer a couple.”

“I don’t want to go back to being just friends. I want you to be my wife, the mother of my children, my lover, my partner in running a household, my Mrs. Koneva, the one I grow old with, the one I’ll one day spend eternity next to six feet underground!”

“There you go again with your silly romantic speeches and attempts to guilt me into being with you! Now I’m going to go back into the kitchen to have something to eat. I think I just heard something break, which can only mean Boris owes my mother more money.”

“Look.” Ivan pulls a box out of his schoolbag. “I made you chocolates last night. My mother and I thought making chocolates would take our minds off my father having just been arrested. I thought you’d like it if I gave you some extras. Here, open your mouth. I’ll feed a few to you.”

“What am I, an invalid? And since when have I ever been the type to be won over by trinkets like flowers and chocolates?”

“You’re just confused because of everything that’s been going on in the country, on top of everything you’ve been through at the hands of your father and the dastardly campaign your mother waged to coerce you into jilting me. But I know this isn’t the real Lyuba talking. The real Lyuba still loves me.”

“You know I do. You also know my reasons for why we can’t ever be husband and wife. God, that astrology book was right when it said Cancer is the most sensitive sign, so easily-wounded, and like a leech on its love interest.”

“Then why don’t we sit down on the davenport right now. Just let me kiss you once and see if you don’t react to it.”

Lyuba involuntarily smiles, then turns her head.

“You see? Even that suggestion made you happy and excited. I know you’re still in love with me, and I’m going to wait as long as I have to for you to sort things out in your head and come back to me. Why don’t you come here and let me do it anyway. Maybe that’ll make you change your mind and come back to me faster.”

The door opens just as they’ve sat down and are leaning towards one another. Ivan jumps up when he sees Lyuba’s mother and aunt, and Lyuba quickly gets up and goes into the kitchen, hoping they didn’t see anything.

Her eyes fill with the sight of Boris scraping egg salad off the floor, broken glass all over the floor. At least this means her mother will be distracted from what she might’ve seen when she came in.

“Boris Aleksandrovich Malenkov!” Mrs. Zhukova shouts. “Another broken bowl?”

“Ginny spilled his water and I tripped on the puddle. I wasn’t about to let good egg salad go to waste, so I decided to eat it off the floor.”

“Listen, if all you think about is food, then you can no longer come to my house after school!" Lyuba says.

“Have some sympathy! My parents got taken away. They were gone when I came home from your house yesterday.”

“My own father was arrested too, and do you see me acting like that?” Ivan asks.

“This bowl was more expensive than the last one,” Mrs. Zhukova says. “I’d say it was at least a hundred rubles, since it was fancy glass. If your parents left enough money behind, you can use that to pay for it.”

“You’re telling Boris to steal money from his own imprisoned parents?” Mrs. Herzena asks.

“Why not? They won’t miss it, and if it bothers him so much, he can always pay them back when they’re together again.” Mrs. Zhukova sees the box in Iván’s hand. “What’s that, a present for Lyuba? You know I don’t approve of you as a suitor for my daughter.”

“Vanya and his mother made chocolates last night,” Lyuba says. “He wanted to give me some extras.”

Mrs. Zhukova sniffs. “That’s another thing I don’t like about you. My daughter needs a husband who engages in masculine pursuits only, like repairing machinery, fixing up the house, hunting, and gambling. She doesn’t need some pansy who likes cooking and baking.”

“I like cooking. There’s nothing wrong with a man who knows how to cook. A husband and wife are supposed to take care of each other; one spouse shouldn’t be forced to only do certain things. That’s not an equal relationship. Sure some things are women’s domain, like childcare, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do some things traditionally associated only with women.”

“Are you sure you weren’t damaged by forceps or dropped when you were born? Or is this part of the sickness that caused your left-handedness?”

“Many famous artists, musicians, and writers were lefties. It’s a special gift from God bestowed only on select few people.” Lyuba takes Ivan’s left hand and lovingly caresses it, remembering how the teachers used to leave marks and bruises on it because he refused to switch. “And God doesn’t make mistakes.”

“No, God never makes mistakes,” Ivan says, gazing at Lyuba. “There’s always a reason for everything, even hardships, even when mere mortals can’t figure out why we can’t get our happy ending handed to us right away. Maybe it’ll make us appreciate our happy ending more, if we have to earn it.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Baseball Widow

Happy Wednesday, everyone! It's a beautiful spring day in New York, which means it's almost time for baseball season. (Go Yankees!) Today's story, coincidentally, is about baseball. OK, so it's about baseball in the same way Friday Night Lights is about football, but I needed a transition. 

Today's excerpt from a novel, The Baseball Widow, is about a Japanese high school baseball coach torn between his obligations to his team and his exceptionally needy family. The novel is also about his American wife who believes their bullied children would be better off in another country. The author, Suzanne Kamata, is an American expatriate living in Japan. She's edited three anthologies including Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs (Beacon Press, May 2008) and Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, 2009), and has published a short story collection, The Beautiful One Has Come (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing) and a novel, Losing Kei (Leapfrog Press, 2008). Enjoy!

The Baseball Widow
By Suzanne Kamata 

On her mother-in-law’s birthday, Christine baked a cake. She’d started this tradition when she’d married Hideki. Before then, his mother had never celebrated her birthday. Cakes and candles and wrapped presents were a Western custom, sometimes adopted for small children, but adults usually let the day pass by with little or no fanfare.

Christine liked to tell her twins that in America, people had birthday parties their whole lives. She’d been born on the same day as her great-grandfather, and they’d celebrated together until he died at the age of ninety-two. Birthday parties were one American custom that they embraced whole-heartedly.

This year, she’d made a Lady Baltimore cake from scratch, following the recipe in her tattered cookbook. Christine sent her mother-in-law off to play with the children while she put the last touches on her masterpiece. She hoped Hideki’s mother, accustomed to airy cakes covered with whipped cream and fresh strawberries, with maybe a sprig of fresh parsley for color, would appreciate the butter cream rosettes. All afternoon she’d practiced squeezing homemade frosting from a tube.

And hopefully, her mother-in-law would appreciate the children’s hand-crafted gifts. She’d taken Emma shopping for beads – sparkly rhinestones, painted ceramic cylinders, round and octoganal beads – which she’d strung onto a silken cord all by herself.

Emma liked pretty things, and she liked stringing beads. Most little girls did. Once, in class, Naka-sensei had marveled at Emma’s concentration as she threaded wooden beads onto a string. When confronted with flashcards or worksheets, she had a tendency to squirm - and what four-year-old wouldn’t, Christine wondered. It was ridiculous to expect her to sit there and study at her age, and yet, Naka-sensei had told Christine more than once that if she didn’t force her daughter ( her four-year-old!) to study, she could forget about college.

That day in class, when Emma had strung nearly a meter of beads, her teacher had remarked, “She’s good at this, isn’t she? Maybe she can do this kind of work when she grows up.”

Christine thought of the parking lot attendant at the YMCA where she used to swim. She could tell by his gait and his speech that he had cerebral palsy like Emma. He had gone to the same high school as Hideki, who’d told her that he’d had a hard time. And yet he had obviously learned quite a bit. He always directed her into the parking space in perfect English. What a waste, she thought, whenever she met him. He was obviously capable of so much more. And she would be damned if Emma did nothing but string beads when she was twenty-one.

Christine squeezed one last rosette, then loosely covered the cake with plastic wrap before sticking it back in the refrigerator.

Hideki breezed in with a platter of sushi from the Atom Boy restaurant down the road. Christine made it a policy of never attempting Japanese cuisine for her mother-in-law. And yet, for her birthday, she wanted to serve something that the woman would definitely like. She laid out plates for the sushi and little saucers for the soy sauce, ladled miso soup into lacquer bowls, and called everyone to the table.

Koji dashed out of the playroom and scrambled into his seat. Behind him, Hideki’s mother held Emma up by her armpits and tried to make her walk.

“Honey, why don’t you give your mother a hand,” Christine shouted. The woman had osteoporosis. She’d been warned by her doctor not to exert herself. If she injured her back, Christine would have two disabled people to take care of. That was the last thing she needed.

Emma could get to the table just fine on her hands and knees. She was agile and fast – and Christine kept the floor polished with Murphy’s Oil Soap. But her mother-in-law hated to see her crawling around like an animal. She’d said as much, numerous times.

They’d barely begun to eat when the woman turned to her son and said, “I’ve learned of a masseuse in Ishii. He’s helped people like Emma. I heard he helped a boy to walk.”

Christine snorted. “What’s his name? Jesus?” She’d been driving Emma to hospitals and various therapies and deaf school for years now. She was the one who coaxed Emma into leg braces every morning, who fitted the hearing aids into her ears, who drilled Emma in fingerspelling, who’d taught the little girl how to tie a bow.

“Christine!” Hideki scolded. “Where is this masseuse, Okaasan? Did you get his card?”

At that moment, she was fed up with both of them. Instead of trying to help Emma with what she had, those two were always looking for the magic bullet, the easy, instant solution, so they wouldn’t have to be bothered to learn sign language or figure out how to get Emma up the stairs when she got too big to carry.

Sure, she’d read up on the miracles at Lourdes and special therapies in Hungary, but she wasn’t holding her breath.

“Emma-chan, you want to walk, don’t you?” Hideki’s mother said in a baby voice.

Christine sighed. She’d told her mother-in-law over and over that she needed to attract Emma’s attention before speaking to her. Either the woman was ignoring her advice, or she was in deep denial. Probably the former. Oh, well. Christine had to stop directing communication. If the rest of the family wanted to converse with Emma, they’d have to find a way on their own.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

That Guy You Love to Hate

This week, I learned something about myself: I am the only person on the face of the e-earth who doesn't hate Jonathan Franzen. I've written about J-Franz before when Freedom was released in 2010, but after a year of a post-publication quiet, The Franzen is back with a vengeance in 2012.

After just coming off He-Called-Edith-Wharton-Ugly Gate, he had this to say about Twitter:

"Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose… it’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters… it’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring “The Metamorphosis.” Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter “P”… It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium."

Now, I love Twitter. During the week, I use it to talk about publishing news, queries I receive, writing tips, and Doctor Who. I started using Twitter to fit my role of literary agent, so I never get too personal. (Likes, dislikes, and political leanings are about as deep as I go. Hopes and dreams are for offline friends.) Of course, there are those who use Twitter as an unfiltered stream of consciousness. Perhaps these are the people Jonathan Franzen finds irritating. Or maybe he hates me too. Who knows?

If you asked me three years ago what I thought about Twitter, my response would not have been too far from Franzen's. I didn't get it. It was glorified Facebook statuses at best, and a complete waste of brain cells at worst. Then I found my niche, gained some followers, and learned that if it's used effectively, it's more about communication than it is about self-promotion. I've even made real-life friends out of people who were once only avatars, and have made contacts in my industry that I wouldn't have made otherwise. For an introvert who skips every networking event I can, this was a big deal.

As a converted fan of Twitter, I read Franzen's comment with the same level of attention I give my grandmother when she complains about Madonna being a floozy. I shrugged it off, and reasoned that it's no surprise that guy who said ebooks are "damaging society" doesn't really care for social media. My only real problem with Franzen's quote is how melodramatic it is. 

Apparently, a lot of people had deeper problems with it. Twitter (of course) exploded with anti-Franzen sentiment and started the (often hilarious) hashtag #JonathanFranzenHates, which included "your mom" and "pina coladas and getting caught in the rain." There were also a lot of "get off my lawn" jokes. Yes, Franzen is behind the times and is perhaps yelling about things he doesn't understand. But why do we care? We use Twitter; he doesn't. Lots of people don't. If Franzen wants to go all Andy Rooney about it, then why can't we just let him? 

The thing about Jonathan Franzen is that he's an extremely talented writer, and one of the last of his generation of white male literary novelists who still use typewriters. Whether you read literary fiction or not, it's hard not to respect him as an author. If he wasn't a Great American Novelist, then no one would pay attention when he speaks. But now it seems we've reached a point where we're looking for reasons to pay attention, when in reality we can probably just ignore him until his next book is published.

I don't understand the scrutiny of Franzen's remarks or the notion that it's actually people like Franzen who are destroying society. No, they're not. He's not telling us not to use social media. He's stating his opinion on it. In his usual style, it comes off as judgmental and harsh, but it's not meant to be divisive. We're doing that. And the irony is, Franzen doesn't even know we're doing it because he doesn't use the Internet.

At some point between The Corrections and now, there's been a collective glee in taking Franzen down a notch, but no one will explain why it means so much to them to destroy this man. If he misspeaks in the media, his haters not only make sure the story doesn't die, but will take things out of context so he seems like even more of a monster. The worse he looks, the better they feel. 

It's hard to pinpoint when Franzenfreude first started. Was it when he dissed Oprah? Was it that Time cover? Or perhaps the "feud" he had with Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Piccoult, that was unbeknownst to him? I'm not defending Franzen's personality. He seems exhausting, but he's not unlike most other literary authors who have an inflated sense of self-importance. As I described him in my 2010 post, he's pompous, sure, but he's also socially awkward (which can lead to saying the wrong thing) and resistant to change (which often comes with choosing a field that's mostly solitary). In simpler terms, he's just kind of a dick. But is he a bad person? A purposely vindictive character in our literary world? No. 

Jonathan Franzen is the literary world's Gwyneth Paltrow. (Until she decides to conquer our world too.) One wears a cloak; the other wears a cape. Gwyneth is not a bad person. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say she's probably a very good person. The problem with Gwyneth is that she's severely out of touch with reality, undeniably privileged, and doesn't understand why everybody can't buy the same $450 moisturizer she uses. She is very easy to roll your eyes at, and even more fun to flat out hate. She's a symbol of privilege, a walking Monty Python sketch, but she isn't someone who deliberately causes harm. 

Like the people who subscribe to Goop ironically, every time Franzen says something like his Twitter rant, I'm more amused than outraged. Oh Franzen, I'll say to myself, You so crazy. Then I go on about my day. But when I see the indignation from people who seem to forget that he's completely predictable, my inner monologue tends to sound more like this.

So, let's all calm down and keep things in perspective. Maybe Franzen does think women are ugly subordinates (he doesn't). There are real attacks on women going on in this country right now. As a feminist, I don't want to waste my efforts on a man who may or may not think he's a better writer than I am based solely on my gender. If there are men who think that, then that only speaks to a larger issue in our society that needs attention.

Similarly, there are real implications of resisting change. We do need to adapt and modernize and understand what's necessary to survive. Using social media to complain about a guy who doesn't use social media is not in our best interest. It only proves him right.

Social media is for connecting with others, giving ourselves a platform, and showing people like Franzen that it can be useful without attacking them for not joining in.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it's for talking about Doctor Who.