Stately Plump Jonathan Franzen Surveys Things of His Own Making

“I don’t like to hire people to do work that I can do,” [Jonathan Franzen] says. So that means he does his own dusting in the New York apartment he shares with his girlfriend? Franzen looks slightly shifty. “We do have a cleaner…

“I repainted our guest room this summer in our rather small house in Santa Cruz.…If I had hired someone, it would’ve been done better, and I was very sick of doing it by the end, and yet it seemed important. The first two coats I enjoyed and the third coat I was getting tired of it and the fourth coat was just sheer torture."

Financial Times, 9 October 2015

Franzen looked down into the terraced pit. It was now all his.

"You never did say what you wanted to buy an iron mine for, Mr. Franzen," said the weather-beaten manager.

"Never mind, Philip," Franzen said kindly, although from lofty heights, "I have my reasons."


Franzen felt the heat of the blast furnace as he shoveled in pig iron to create the steel he needed for printing plants and trucks, for his lumber mill saws and typewriters.

Hefting an axe over his shoulder, Franzen strode boldly into the forest, as if on seven-league boots. "These trees are worthy to form the pages of my books," he said to the birds and squirrels.

A knife clenched between his teeth, Franzen leapt from the deck of the ship, a ship he had built himself from the wood of his forest, the iron of his pit.

Down he swam, down past the limits of human endurance and of sanity, to find the squid that would surrender ink for his pages.


"Mr. Franzen, I know that many authors have owned bookstores or set up shops. Larry McMurtry, for instance. But I'm intrigued about the choices you made for yours."

"To build the shop with my own hands? To make all the shelves? To create a new form of currency? To program the cash register?"

"Yes, yes, all that. But also, selling just the one book. That one you wrote."

"My plan has come together."


Franzen looked around his shop and the awkward customers who tried to avoid eye contact. It was dusty. Perhaps he should hire someone to take care of that.