Franzen’s Freedom Reviewed


Jaime Gelman, Maroon-News Staff

The campus was abuzz with energy when author Jonathan Franzen visited campus last Thursday. He spent his day answering questions from the Living Writers class, reading to and answering questions from the general public in Love Auditorium and finally attending a dinner in his honor at Merrill House.

The Living Writers class and the online edX class each read Freedom, Franzen’s 2010 novel about the troubled relationships of the Berglund family and their close friends and lovers. Freedom won the John Gardner Fiction Award, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, was named a notable piece of fiction by the American Library Associate and Oprah Winfrey selected it as her first book club piece of 2010. Additionally, while promoting the book, Franzen appeared on the cover of Time Magazine with the headline “Great American Novelist.”

The majority of the students who read Freedom loved the book, praising Franzen for his novel. While there were several readers who cited the plot of his novel as trivial and mundane, students and adults alike were hard-pressed to find fault in his engaging writing style.

During his official Living Writers lecture, Franzen read a crude yet hilarious and sarcastic piece from his upcoming novel. The excerpt followed newly divorced couple Tom and Annabelle, who constantly fought yet could not keep their hands off of each other. Franzen admitted to not having practiced reading the section aloud before the lecture. He showed some reluctance to read by prolonging his opening speech and interrupting his own reading to make short comments, wondering aloud if he was the only one who found this excerpt humorous. He was quickly proven wrong as the audience laughed heartily.

Junior James Mitchell, a student from the Living Writers class, expressed his great enthusiasm at Franzen’s book Freedom and his lecture this past Thursday.

“I loved the book and his lecture was awesome,” said Mitchell. “He was kind of adorable hiding behind the podium, not wanting to read from his new book.”

Not everyone at Franzen’s lecture was in the Living Writers class, nor did they read his book prior to his visit to Colgate’s campus. However, their lack of knowledge of the famous writer did not stop them from attending his lecture.

“I didn’t read his book, but I really enjoyed his snarky humor,” junior Denise Elliot said. “Now I really want to read some of his work.”

After his lecture,  a select group of students, faculty and alumni were invited to dinner, where they were able to sit in small groups and chat about Franzen and his novel. Many of the attendees were able to rotate tables, giving them a chance to speak more intimately with Franzen during the dinner. The food and the company were both fantastic, and everyone who had the pleasure of attending the dinner was thrilled to spend more time in the delightful author’s company.

“I really enjoyed the book,” junior Lee Tremblay said. “I finished it and wanted more, which is why getting to talk to Mr. Franzen over dinner was amazing.”

Jonathan Franzen’s visit to Colgate this past week was a complete success. While it seems that the majority of the campus enjoyed his lecture and his novel, even those who did not could not deny that having such a famous author on campus was an honor and a privilege. Those who had the opportunity to interact with, or even just get their book signed by Franzen, were fortunate to be part of the Colgate community this past Thursday evening.