Forget Freedom (For Now): Other Books Are Just As Worthy


Someday I'll read Freedom. I'm currently 113th on the waiting list at University City Library. Maybe Sarah will lend me her copy in an attempt to convert me to Freedom-dom.

I suppose I could go out and buy a copy. But $28 is a pretty steep price to pay for a hardcover, especially for one I'm not sure I'll like. Back in 2001 or 2002, I made my way through The Corrections, inspired by all the hype and then the backlash about Oprah's power over "modern tastemaking" or something. I did not like it, mostly because of Franzen's utter contempt for his characters. Why would someone want to spend years and years turning out a 600-page novel about people he despised?

Later, I grew slightly fond of Franzen after I read his essay in the New Yorker about his career as a prankster at Webster High. The fondness quickly calcified back into disgust after I attempted another essay on birdwatching and the demise of his marriage.

Sarah has good taste in books, so I'll trust her assessment that Freedom is awesome. But I can wait. There are plenty of other good books to read this fall, so why is Freedom getting all the hype?

Allegra Goodman and Julia Glass both have new books out. I've read all their previous novels (and enjoyed some more than others), but these are two authors I look out for. When I finally latched my paws on Goodman's latest, The Cookbook Collector, I didn't let go until I'd read it twice. (And yes, I got it from the library. I'm still loathe to buy hardcover copies of books, even if I'm pretty sure I'll like them.)

Last month, while browsing the new fiction shelf at the Richmond Heights Library, I stumbled across Happy Now? by Katherine Shonk. It's a first novel and is, like Freedom (and a million other novels), about love, identity and families, and it made me both laugh out loud and then cry.

There are plenty of books like that, just waiting to be discovered. Looking back, I see that the examples I've given have all been books by women. It's pretty clear that the literary establishment has been dominated by books by white men. See this list of New York Times book reviews compiled by Slate if you don't believe me. Or just try to name a candidate for Great American Novel not written by a white man.

Maybe Freedom really is that great. But why has it been anointed the Chosen One while thousands of other books get ignored? I'm not talking about the works of Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult because, while I think Good in Bed and The Pact were pretty good books, I can't say the same for their recent output. (But then there's the question: Would they write better books if they had nine years between novels?) I'm talking about good novels by good writers that we never hear about because everybody is too busy hyperventilating over Freedom.

Come on, people. There are other books out there. Go out and explore. Talk to a bookseller. Talk to a librarian. Wouldn't it be great if we got as excited over other books the way we get excited about Freedom?

Read Sarah Fenske's original argument here.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.