A Novelist Who Sincerely Hosts Readers in His Own Kitchen

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Jonathan Franzen in a Remote Meeting at the Taipei International Book Exhibition 2022

On the second day of the release of Crossroads, which happened to be the first day of the 2022 Taipei International Book Exhibition, American writer Jonathan Franzen met with Taiwanese readers through an international connection. He was interviewed by writer Tonghao Li, with simultaneous interpretation by Leonard Chien.
Tonghao Li's first question was: Have you ever heard this saying, "If you want to be cruel to a writer, compare him to Jonathan Franzen"? Franzen laughed and said he hadn't heard that before, but the green shirt he was wearing today was exactly the same as the one in the photo on the cover of Time magazine in 2010.
His self-deprecating first response showed his friendliness, and for the next hour of the online connection, Franzen was warm and sincere. He was asked about his life during the pandemic, his writing habits, why he always writes big novels, and even the reason behind choosing to set Crossroads in the 1970s. He answered all the questions thoroughly and praised the questioners' thoughtfulness multiple times.

After publishing seven books, he facing Chinese readers for the first time

Franzen has always been outspoken and sincere when it comes to environmental, gender, and racial issues, even expressing his concerns about online authoritarianism and the dark forces of social media in his novel Purity. After the publication of his ambitious yet highly entertaining work, Crossroads, last autumn, he reminded people that he is indeed one of the most talented contemporary novelists, particularly due to his unwavering commitment to examining society, which garners him immense respect, as well as high praise from the media.
This time, he accepted the invitation from Taiwan for the first time and served as the first internationally connected author in this year's book exhibition. When asked by Tonghao Li, he shared how he worked and spent his time during the pandemic period of over two years. Franzen openly admitted that compared to many people who were unable to meet their loved ones, fell ill, or had their work obstructed during the pandemic, he was extremely fortunate. Lockdowns and social distancing actually made it easier for him to have a routine of going to bed at 9 p.m. and waking up at 5 a.m., which, of course, benefited his writing.
Crossroads took a total of 26 months to write. Mr. Li further inquired about the details of his writing process at that time. Franzen revealed that he had an office not far from his home and would go there every morning after breakfast. Once in the office, his fixed ritual was to write six lines, recording the events of the previous day, and then spend two to three hours revising the previous day's draft. Franzen asked everyone to imagine a completely dark office with the curtains drawn, where only the desk lamp and computer were visible. That's how he spent 6 to 7 hours a day, 7 days a week, fully immersed in writing in the darkness.
Despite being an internationally recognized figure in the literary world, Franzen sincerely states, "Writing a good novel is really difficult, and the only method I know is to do it wholeheartedly." Therefore, he must dedicate 6 to 7 hours a day, 7 days a week, day after day, without interruption. "Because every detail requires thoughtful consideration and mental retention."

Writing a long novel as preparing a sumptuous feast in the kitchen

Mr. Li was curious: In a world where paper book readership is declining, why does Franzen insist on writing long novels?
Franzen admitted that he has never been fond of writing short stories. Firstly, based on his own experience as a reader, he enjoys books without worrying about the length of the story; in fact, he prefers thicker books. Secondly, a novel of over 600 pages, which is less than 1000 pages, is not really thick (there is indeed a difference in reading habits between the United States and Taiwan). He then compared it by saying, "Writing a long novel is because I don't want to just make a bowl of noodles to satisfy the readers. I want to prepare meticulously, serving a table with more than ten dishes to entertain the readers properly."
Crossroads mainly revolves around the Reverend Ross Hadley and his family in the fictional suburban town of New Prospect, near Chicago. The first two-thirds of the book primarily focus on the two days before Christmas in 1971, delving into the emotional struggles of each family member, their professional and academic situations, marital issues, and even their religious lives. The five main characters are like separate and interrelated dishes, creating an incredibly abundant experience for readers, with the author's intentions clearly expressed.

The need to find ways to be kind to each other in this technological and modern society

Franzen believes that in this complex era, the most important moral or belief is kindness. "In this technological and modern society, kindness is not encouraged or valued, so we need to find ways to be kind to each other."
At the end of the event, Franzen expressed his gratitude to everyone who still values reading and books. "The beauty of reading novels lies in the fact that it is completely different from other art forms. The world you experience is created and transformed by yourself through reading printed words on paper. This value is irreplaceable."
Applause filled the venue and lingered for a long time. It was applause for the readers themselves and applause for the novelist who earnestly serves his guests from his own kitchen on the West Coast of the United States.


Jonathan Franzen
Jonathan Franzen is the author of five novels--Purity, Freedom, The Corrections, The Twenty-Seventh City, and Strong Motion--and five works of nonfiction and translation, including Farther Away, How to Be Alone, and The Discomfort Zone, all published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the German Akademie der Kunste, and the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Li, Tong-hao
Journalist and Red Cross certified lifeguard instructor, who runs the well-established channel "Dirty Talk" and its corresponding Facebook fan page. Author of OKAPI columns as well as the critically acclaimed book Happy Together or Not, recommended by OpenBook for a Good Life in 2005. Winner of the Lin Rongsan Fiction First Prize and Chiukuo's Literature Award.

Full Articles in Traditional Chinese

勒利•索可洛夫(Lale Sokolov,1916~2006)人生中有超過50年都懷著一個秘密,這段不能說出口的往事發生於二戰時的歐洲,那時,納粹德國人對猶太人做出不可思議的恐怖事跡。80歲以前,勒利完全無法向人說出這段過去,即使他的生活離那個恐怖地方有千里遠。 勒利曾經是奧斯維辛集中營的刺青師。
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