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THE BOOK RIOT 50: #9 Jonathan Franzen Hates Ebooks…Who Cares?

Rebecca Joines Schinsky

Chief of Staff

Rebecca Joines Schinsky is the executive director of product and ecommerce at Riot New Media Group. She co-hosts All the Books! and the Book Riot Podcast. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccaschinsky.

To celebrate Book Riot’s  first birthday on Monday, we’re running our best 50 posts from our first year this week. Click here for the running list. This post originally ran January 31, 2012.


You couldn’t swing a cat yesterday without hitting some reference to the write-up of Jonathan Franzen’s Cartagena, Colombia press conference. That’s right folks, Jonathan Franzen held a press conference. In Colombia. No, we don’t have any idea why.

The bestselling and oft-derided author stated his opinions on Barack Obama’s reading habits (it’s great that he’s a fan, but shouldn’t he read something more important than a novel?), the dangers of combining technology and capitalism (wonder how he rationalizes his HBO deal…), mortality (no joke), and the never-ending print vs. ebook debate (which, I hasten to add, is a false dichotomy). It comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying even minimal attention that Franzen prefers the printed word, but HOO BOY did he ruffle some feathers when he stated that real “serious readers” (like himself, natch) require a “sense of permanence” he believes ebooks can’t provide. So, you know, if you like ebooks, you’re obviously not a serious reader. Jonathan Franzen is smarter than you, and he wants you to know you’ve been conned.

Insulting? Sure it is. But consequential? Hell to the no. It sucks that Franzen is so judgy–especially at a time when the literary community is working hard to demonstrate that books in any format are still relevant–and we do wonder what he thinks about readers who are serious enough to enjoy Freedom but who read it on digital devices. Yeah, what of them? It’s a headscratcher…but that’s all it is: a sucky, insulting, totally inconsequential headscratcher of a statement from an author who we are nearly positive did not consult his publicist before he opened his mouth.

So Jonathan Franzen has an opinion, and he thinks it is superior to all others. So what? Why should anyone care? It’s not as if this is the first time that an author has gotten up on their high horse and alienated a sizable chunk of their potential readership. Also, the last time we checked, writing books did not make someone an expert on the publishing industry or reading technology. We have people for that. Jonathan Franzen is a writer–just a writer, and one who prides himself on being disconnected from technology. And that, as my mother would say, is his little red wagon to pull.

The rest of us don’t have to take offense, and we don’t have to follow Franzen’s lead and put on our Judgy McJudgerton pants, and we really don’t have to attack each other in vitriolic comment threads (take a gander at that one, really) or declare that we’ll never read Franzen again (why should bad behavior keep you from reading something you might enjoy?). In fact, we don’t have to pay attention to this at all. Why should we care what authors thinks about our reading preferences? Or about anything else for that matter? Is there anything we would be interested in their opinion on? And why is this even a story? That’s the question we should really be asking. Slow news day at The Telegraph, or does someone really think readers are sitting around wringing our hands, hoping authors approve of what and how we read?

Let’s take our toys and go play somewhere else now, and let’s agree that next time an author decides to make such a silly (and hello, borderline paranoid) statement, we’ll do what our kindergarten teachers told us to do and just ignore it.