Apparently keen to consolidate his position as technophobes’ favorite literary curmudgeon, Jonathan Franzen has taken another swing at social media and its invidious demands on that poor besieged figure, the author. As reported in Britain’s The Bookseller, Franzen claimed on BBC Radio 4’s Today program that young American writers were feeling “absolutely coerced into this constant self-promotion” by agents who insisted that they spend their time upping their Twitter follower count rather than developing their craft.
Franzen also complained that the same young writers were missing out on lost opportunities to earn freelance bucks as social media steals away those formerly lucrative niches, and that the book trade was facing “really the demolition of the brick and mortar book business by Amazon.”
Maybe this is Franzen paying his dues to the conservative camp in a literary establishment that promoted him to Stephen King-esque Time Magazine “Great American Novelist” front cover status on the strength of three novels plus one book launch? After all, that’s great expectations to live up to. It certainly seems like he spends about as much time complaining about Twitter or generally feeding the publicity beast in the course of promoting his latest work, The Kraus Project, as any young American writer loses through tweeting.
This, incidentally, is the book described by Dwight Garner in a recent New York Times review as: “a disheveled and talky assault on everything the author sees when he opens his laptop or clicks on a television, including, but not limited to, Facebook, smartphones, ‘the high-school-cafeteria social scene of Gawker takedowns and Twitter popularity contests,’ the hipness of Apple products, reality TV, Fox News, Amazon, even the “recent tabloidization” of the AOL home page … this book’s series of drive-by pea shootings (he pings Salman Rushdie for condescending to tweet) are beneath him.”
Perhaps Franzen’s version of perfecting his craft is now honing the perfect anti-Amazon putdown? For it seems that different standards apply to the traditional demands of book trade marketing, like traditional bookstores, traditional black-tie galas, or traditional Great American Novelists. All the financial and reputational coercion in the world to stump up for that kind of call on your time is fine, it seems. After all, that’s what traditional Great American Novelists do.