Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Franzen Frenzy?

Since I first spotted a galley of Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom, on the F Train months ago, in the hands of a Brooklyn-bound woman, I've been anticipating its release. So when I got the announcement via Facebook that St. Mark's Bookshop would be extending its hours to sell the book beginning at midnight last night, I figured I had to be there to capture the momentous occasion.

As we know, New Yorkers get excited when a new product is first released to the market. They line up for hours outside Apple stores for new iPhones and iPads. They sleep outside big boxes like IKEA the night before a grand opening, just to be the first inside. They even do it for books, camping by the doorways of bookstores on the nights when fresh Harry Potters come screaming into the world.

So I figured, with all the Franzen hoopla, there would at least be a small line.



But there was no line. Not even Greg Packer, the guy who camps out in line for everything, was there. Shortly before midnight, about 6 people were in the bookstore, milling about. Billie Holiday sang the blues over the loudspeakers. The shop had a hollow feeling. It was sort of depressing.

Still, I imagined that when the books arrived, there would be some fanfare. They'd be wheeled out on a festooned palette, in a big stack like a frosty birthday cake. Bibliophiles would suddenly appear at the door to grab up multiple copies for posterity. Hey, this guy was just on the cover of TIME magazine! But that didn't happen.

When the clerk announced, in a weary, bemused voice, "Ladies and gentleman, it is midnight and we are now legally permitted to sell to you Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, the book that the New York Times just cannot stop praising," there was a barely discernible ripple of acknowledgment from the patrons. He placed a handful of copies on the New Fiction shelf, mixed in among the other authors whose names begin with F.

One young woman perked up. I think she might have exclaimed, "Oh boy!" She was the first to grab a copy and the first to buy it.

"How does it feel to be the first person to own that book in New York City?"
the clerk asked her.

"Am I really the first?"

"Well, the first to own it legally."

Then a couple of young men sidled up, real casual, as if they weren't there for one reason only. They picked up the book and inspected it. They turned a few pages, looking unimpressed as they pretended to be making a decision. They bought it, too. Then another. And maybe one more. One guy left without even looking at it. And then the store was pretty much empty.

Maybe if it was a new flavor of cupcake, people would have been there.

25 comments:

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

But I read his other book "The Corrections" no big thing, kind of ho-hum yawnnnn....

Jeremiah Moss said...

really? a lot of people didn't like it, but i loved The Corrections. and i've just dived into Freedom, first thing this AM. so far, so good.

esquared said...

well if they were offering a complimentary shake shack burger, or a magnolia cupcake, or a pinkberry fro-yo..., the line would have formed since the weekend.

also, it could also be because that there's this franzenfreude counter movement against the franzen frenzy

Kevin Walsh said...

Franzen is known as the guy who turned down Oprah's Book Club, so he has my respect

www.forgotten-ny.com

Ken Mac said...

depressing.....it's just a book. No gadget, nothing to yack back at you, no interaction with the machine. Guess books are not sexy!

Jeremiah Moss said...

so true about the free food!

despite my petulant cupcake remark, i have to say, in defense of the book lovers who weren't lining up at midnight, maybe people who are interested in reading a 500-page book are also good at delaying gratification. unlike folks who camp out for iPhones.

personally, i was hoping for something eventful so i could report today: "Book lovers line up for Franzen at midnight." if i wasn't blogging about it, i probably could've waited until today to buy it.

obviously, i am thinking too much about this.

as for Franzenfreude, that's really gotten under my skin.

jspencer said...

She's not the first in NYC to own it. Mine came from Amazon around 4 yesterday afternoon.

Goggla said...

After reading the Corrections, I really wanted that part of my life back. At least I nabbed a copy with the Oprah endorsement in the cover. Jeremiah, maybe you'd like to have it? ;)

Jeremiah Moss said...

et tu Goggla? why didn't you like it?

Goggla said...

In fact, I've got that damn book turned around on my bookshelf so I don't have to see JF's giant name staring at me from the spine. It's bigger than all the other names on all the other books on my shelf and that has something to do with my dislike...I think it's mostly to do with my feelings towards the author rather than his writing, although I have a problem with that, too. I find him pretentious and fat-headed, but if anyone would like to show me the light, feel free...

Jeremiah Moss said...

i guess i think of him as more "serious" than pretentious, but i see how that can come across. his writing resonates with me. i like smart curmudgeons. also, his essay "Imperial Bedroom," about how cell phones rob us of our public privacy, is most excellent:

http://bit.ly/dkoSvB

Goggla said...

I have to laugh because that very essay will not display for me...so I have been searching for it and can only find interviews with the author himself. It's as if he knows what I said...lol.

Jeremiah Moss said...

he's listening... :)

it's a good essay, if you're ever able to check it out.

Jeremiah Moss said...

also, one of the best scenes in The Corrections, one i think of often, is when Chip tries to get his college students to see through the manipulation in the "You Go, Girl!" ad campaign. of course, the kids are totally resistant to critical thinking. (starts on page 39)

http://bit.ly/9nOfgN

we need more people writing this stuff.

Goggla said...

If I bring my book by, will you autograph it? ;)

Jeremiah Moss said...

:)

(you've reduced me to an emoticon! i will say no more...except give the Corrections another chance. published in 2001, it presages the entire awful decade to come!)

Marjorie said...

I just wanted to let you know that for a change... something is coming back to NY!

The old Chock Full O'Nuts is opening a coffee shop on West 23rd Street. I wonder if the menu will be the same, with those famous cream cheese sandwiches on date nut bread.

Jeremiah Moss said...

kind of amazing that Chock Full survives. but does anyone eat cream cheese sandwiches anymore?

Anonymous said...

my father eats cream cheese sandwiches. hes 92 yrs old.

City Of Strangers said...

Jeremiah,

Well, I'll give 'Corrections' another shot based on your recommendation, but I'm with Goggla on that one. Tried it, didn't make it past the first few pages. Maybe like page ten. Curious about the essay though (your link didn't work)

But I'm not surprised people weren't lining up for his book.

T.

John M said...

if he was as good as his p.r. machine, there would have been a mob. as it is, he's just another of a crop of good writers. maybe if his first big hit wasn't full of so many gimmicks....that he's considered a heavyweight 'serious' writer is kind of amusing, and says more about the times we're in than it does about him. besides, harry potter books are a more apt comparison to ipods and iphones. those books get crowds. see the pattern? iphones, movies, harry potter....people line up for stuff that's fun. franzen isn't exactly a page-turner.

Melanie said...

My Dad ate cream cheese sandwiches too with a bit of mayo. He said with some people "taste is in their mouth".

kim said...

I love cream cheese sandwiches on, omg, extra yummy datenut bread!
I liked the Corrections but probably was just in the mood to be toyed with. Maybe will check out new book but agree w/ Goggla - if the author feels smug or annoying - fuggetaboutit.
My guess @ StMark Books is: the people (me) who shop there are much too chill to camp for a book - thats a BarnseandNobles thing.

Anonymous said...

his form of lowbrow writing, landing on the desk of the puppet in office, is akin to a new flavor of cupcake and every bit a 'novelty' as the novelties that lined fifth avenue

kamagra said...

Jonathan Frantzen is unquestionably an excellent writer.