Jonathan Franzen on Fame, Fascism, and Why He Won’t Write a Book About Race

Isaac Chotiner in Slate:

ScreenHunter_2137 Aug. 03 06.39“Manhattan is just all bank branches,” said Jonathan Franzen as he walked through the living room of his home in Santa Cruz, California. When he visits his former neighborhood on the Upper East Side these days, he can only think: “This was a nice grocery store; now it’s a bank. This was a nice liquor store; now it’s a bank.” Santa Cruz, a college town and beach city, suits him better. Franzen’s house, though part of a generic housing development, is perched on a beautiful ravine with a lovely view of both the ocean and the conservation area below. There are plenty of opportunities for birding, which Franzen loves. (When the conversation happened to turn to Jamaica, he casually stated that he had seen 27 of the island’s 29 unique bird species.) He shares the place with his longtime partner, Kathy Chetkovich, also a writer.

I first caught sight of Franzen, casually dressed, picking up his mail outside. Inside, the modest living room is tidy, and less book-heavy than one might expect. Franzen is now 56, but despite his grayish hair and unshaven chin, his face is still boyish. For someone so often characterized as remote or even curmudgeonly, he is strikingly friendly and inquisitive. When I confessed under questioning that I am not a birder, he recommended the practice with passionate generosity, offering specific locations I could visit in my hometown of Oakland, California, and doing so with the sincerity of someone who is not trying to tell you how to behave but rather suggesting something that he believes will genuinely offer you pleasure.

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