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A Correct Approach

March 7, 2012

I was blown away by Jonathan Franzen’s novel, The Corrections. It was a fantastic and thoroughly engaging read, but I lack the inclination to extrapolate on that sentiment here and attempt to spin it into a five hundred word post. Instead, I’ll merely provide a little anecdotal observation about the author and his novel that is intended as a blogged love letter of sorts.

Not long after it was first published, there was a mild controversy surrounding The Corrections and its being selected by Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, which also saw Franzen invited on to the sofa to sit by the empress of daytime chat shows and discuss the novel. Actually, given the relatively harmless context of literary entertainment here, let’s call it a mere brouhaha rather than a controversy. Franzen balked at his book being selected by Oprah, objecting on the grounds that the novel would be seen as having been written for women, primarily for the consumption of a female readership, when he, in fact, wanted to reach adult male readers whom he believed weren’t reading enough. He expressed his misgivings concerning the selection for Oprah’s Book Club in interviews and his invitation to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s chat show was subsequently withdrawn. Commenting on the reasons for his objection Franzen said

So much of reading is sustained in this country, I think, by the fact that women read while men are off golfing or watching football on TV or playing with their flight simulator or whatever.

That was a frighteningly illuminating quote because it demonstrated that the relatively young Franzen did not waste any of his time with video games, neither playing nor paying any attention to them whatsoever. He believed “flight simulators” were still popular games. I don’t even own a current generation gaming console but, sadly, I know full well that the bestselling and most common games are first-person shooters, sports titles, or racing games and that nobody has given a fuck about a flight simulator game in quite some time. If Franzen had at least said “driving simulator” I would feel somewhat reassured but no, here is a man so dedicated to being a professional novelist that his woeful knowledge of video games suggest that he hasn’t spent any of his own time on them since the early 1990s, when flight simulators still mattered. That could be what it takes to be a decent writer, folks. If you happen to know what Call of Duty, Halo, and Grand Theft Auto are, however, then you’ve already blown it.

Unless…he’s faking it! This is a possibility, the evidence for which I’d cite as The Corrections itself, as the text features a moment in which one character’s children get hooked on a computer game that sounds properly researched and convincingly similar to actual real-world games like Black & White and Evolution. Crucially, the game in the novel is not a flight simulator, indicating Franzen is perhaps feigning a dismissive ignorance of such things in the quote above in order to preserve his reputation as a serious novelist amongst his literary peers. His buddy Michael Chabon sits in attics reading boxes of old comic books, so it’s reasonable to assume Jonathan Franzen has at least indulged in some clandestine PC gaming at some time. Hell, him and Chabon have even done their Simpsons cameos, who does he think he’s kidding with a supposedly uninformed quip like “flight simulator or whatever“?

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