Jonathan Franzen, Oprah Winfrey, and the Future of the Social Novel

  • Jeremy Green


During the autumn of 2001, when the news was dominated by the horrors of terrorism and war, the falling out of Oprah Winfrey and Jonathan Franzen offered a distracting spectacle of loose talk and public embarrassment. In September, heralded by a blaze of publicity, Franzen published his third novel, The Corrections. Early reviews were wildly enthusiastic, lavishing particular praise on the book’s treatment of character and its sheer readability. Later in the same month, Oprah Winfrey announced her selection of The Corrections for her television book club, thereby guaranteeing that commercial success would accompany critical esteem.1 Trouble began, however, on Franzen’s nationwide promotional tour. He expressed ambivalence about his Oprah selection, acknowledging his discomfort with the appearance of the Book Club logo on the cover of his novel, and admitting to unease over past selections: “The problem in this case is some of Oprah’s picks. She’s picked some good books, but she’s picked enough schmaltzy, one dimensional ones that I cringe, myself, even though I think she’s really smart and she’s really fighting the good fight.”2 When Franzen’s comments reached Winfrey, she took the unprecedented step of canceling the scheduled show devoted to The Corrections. Subsequent press commentary chastised Franzen for his “elitism” and “snobbery.”3 His apologies and qualifications seemed only to make matters worse, drawing further criticism of his perceived disingenuousness or, at best, his naivety.


Public Sphere Class Identity Book Club Talk Show Literary Fiction 
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    See, e.g., Jonathan Yardley, “The Story of O,” Washington Post (October 28, 2001): C.02;Google Scholar
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© Jeremy Green 2005

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  • Jeremy Green

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