It's way too easy to join the eruption of literary praise surrounding Jonathan Franzen's new novel. Just as it's equal parts self-promoting laziness to piss all over what Franzen's accomplished. I'm still in the middle when it comes to this event, er, book. Mainly because I haven't finished "Freedom" and I've not exactly felt driven to devour it whole. And while I'm still a big big fan of Franzen's talents, I'd like to take a slighter different tack. One utterly without plot spoilers. Namely, I need to say something about what Franzen offered up for his authorial lecture in Seattle earlier this week. In short, it was a gawddamn travesty.
Big books, thankfully, still can garner big spotlights in the right places - no matter how much that list of places is dwindling. Nonetheless, that was the case in the way Seattle Arts & Lectures promoted Tuesday evening with Franzen at Benaroya Hall. It was my first visit to that symphonic wonder. Gorgeous, filled with warm wood and all the glitter of money donated from the largess of what's now a different economy. Franzen remarked himself after being bathed in a typically laudatory intro that "wow, this is a big room." And Seattle's book-thirsty population (real or imagined) really showed up in its best dress fleece and tweediness. You could practically feel the intellectual lust dripping off the seat backs and gumming up the floor throughout. Bookish horndogs are so adorable. So all Franzen needed to do was give a coy turn of the shoulder or bare a subtly original angle. In which case, he could have serviced every single sizable IQ in the place simultaneously. Instead, he read (from old, unedited notes) a "talk" he'd delivered in Germany last year. Some won't fault the dood - he admitted as much himself, making the obvious joke about how Seattle's so full of bibliophiles that he couldn't do a regular book tour event here. But I can't be so kind. As much as I admire Franzen's work and the exposure he brings to the general craft of novel writing, he couldn't have underwhelmed the room more if he'd cinched up the chastity belt wrapped 'round his wit and sprayed us all down with an ice water firehose. Well, maybe that's a bit stretched. Let's just say that a full price ticket general admission ticket ($30 frickin' bucks - still a chafe at half price) proved about as stimulating as a handjob in a glove factory. I'll come back to review the book next week. His work should merit this double billing. But that SAL event was a disgrace, dood.
On another level of satisfaction, the new album from The Walkmen ("Lisbon") has offered up one of those rare surprises that keeps me going back to my record store week after week. These guys know how to tunefully kvetch and lament. They also know better than most acts how to craf compelling songs and deliver them with full gut emotion. I'm intrigued by what they've done here. My rating for this album - an impressed and curious B-plus. Heading north, I expect.