Are Gwyneth Paltrow and Jonathan Franzen Wrong About Everything?

I’m pretty much recovered from last year’s celebrity encounters with Joseph Boyden and Joyce Carol Oates, so it’s time to get star struck again! Recently I met a few celebrities and made plans to meet another. Let’s review.

1. Gwyneth Paltrow
Calm down, I didn’t actually meet GP. But I did attend the launch party for Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything by Tim Caulfield and she was there in spirit, and also in cardboard cut-out form. At one point, the line up to take a “selfie” with 2D Gwyn was longer than the line to talk to the author. At this point pretend I say something profound about celebrity culture.

This kept happening

This kept happening

Goopy and Me

Goopy and Me

2. Tim Caulfield
The real reason I was there, Tim Caulfield is an author, the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, a father of four, and a local celebrity himself.

Tim Caufield Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?

I can hardly call this a book launch. It was a fete. There was catering, live music, and free drinks. And it was weird being at a book thing without any book people – they were all University and health care types. Good thing I brought my sister as my date. She used to plan health care conferences and recognized many of the attendees as former speakers and delegates, including Caulfield. They didn’t recognize her though, and she wanted to keep it that way, so we retreated to a corner and she gave me the dirt on who’s a nightmare to work for and who only has their job because of family connections and so on. Just like celebrity gossip! With fewer nude leaks.

On Caulfield himself? “Everyone loves him. Especially women.” From what I saw that night? Absolutely true!


I’ve read the first chapter of the book, and I love that Caulfield is an unabashed consumer of celeb culture himself. It isn’t about scolding people, or looking down on the masses who read Star magazine. It’s about examining the reasons we trust celebrities in ways that we don’t trust scientists or ourselves. I do hope there’s some level of feminist perspective in the chapters to come, as a large portion of the type of health & beauty advice Caulfield’s writing about comes from female celebrities and is aimed at female consumers. We shall see.

This book’s going to be huge. The timing couldn’t be better, what with vaccine debates back in fashion (seriously, it’s like a parenting forum exploded all over the internet) and GP-endorsed uterus steam cleanings.

3. Jonathan Frazen
I know, I know. No one wants to hear a book blogger rant about Jonathan Frazen right now. But in writing about Goopy, I realized that she and JFranz are hated for the same reasons:

  • They have big egos. Um. An actress and a writer have large egos? The hell you say! There is a segment of the population who kind of admire’s Franzen’s confidence, which I don’t hear too much about Goopy.
  • They don’t deserve what they have. When Goopy uses a new catchphrase, or steam cleans her internal organs, the world takes notice. She made up “conscious uncoupling!” (she didn’t.) She hates working moms! (she doesn’t.) She steams her vagina! (I got nothin’.) And people resent that. Same thing for Franzen. Is it possible to write an article about him and not mention “best living American author?” Apparently not! Being a good actress or a good writer is a very subjective thing, so many people will disagree. In this case, sorry guys, Goopy gets a free pass for life for Seven and Sliding Doors and Franzen gets a free pass for The Corrections. They’re both legit, no matter how insufferable.
  • They are oblivious. How can Goopy be so smug? So condescending? So full of unchecked privilege? Doesn’t she know how awful she is? I… think she does, actually. She probably knew exactly what was going to happen when she posted about “conscious uncoupling.” She’s crafting an image, it’s just not necessarily a likeable or relatable or even aspirational image. I feel the same way about Franzen. Every time he gives an interview, the same people make the same snide comments (myself included!) and as much as he lambasts Jennifer Weiner for “self-promoting,” he’s doing just the same. Like Goopy, he’s not oblivious. He knows what’s going to happen when he said YA isn’t morally ambiguous or that he hasn’t read any of Weiner’s books.

Speaking of self promoting, Franzen is headlining Book Expo America this year which is the main reason that I’m attending. Yes, I booked my flight on the very day that Franzen’s latest outrageous interview came out! It’s like he knew. Now, to try and get a selfie with him. Perhap there’ll be a cardboard cut-out for me to practise on.

Who’s the biggest celebrity author you’ve met? And bloggers: are you going to BEA this year?



  1. bellarah

    I may be an oblivious, uncultured Australian, but all I’ve ever heard about Frazen is how much of a jerk he is, and that when I worked in a bookshop, we had a huge stack of his books that we couldn’t shift because no one wanted them. We ended up putting them at the front for $5! I think that was “Freedom”. Reading that interview, I don’t feel bad about that at all!
    As for Paltrow, she gives me a laugh! It must be so tiring to live like she does!

  2. ebookclassics

    Ha ha, so funny above about selling Franzen’s books for $5. Did they sell the books then or have to give them away? I don’t have anything against Franzen because I haven’t really paid much attention to him. I do, however, have a crush on Gwyneth that I’ve never been able to shake even when I hear about the dumb things she says. The Caulfield book sounds very interesting, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it.

  3. Heather

    I guess I’m the odd person out–I don’t much appreciate some of the things that come out of his mouth, but I happen to like his books very much. I suppose I’m just not cool enough to hate them. [shrugs]

  4. emilymullaswilson

    I don’t know anything about Franzen personally, but I do know that characters in his books get rewarded for their douche-iness. And it’s a proportional reward program: the douchier they are, the greater the payoff. I threw Freedom across the room when I was done with it. You just can’t go around bulldozing people like that and then end up with everything you’ve ever wanted. Just…no.

    • lauratfrey

      I don’t remember for Freedom ended. Now I want to go back and look. The part that made me want to throw it across the room was the environmental/child free rant in the middle. I much preferred The Corrections!

  5. Naomi

    Caulfield’s book sounds interesting. But, mostly I’m excited for you that you are going to BEA this year! I hope you get the picture you want! For now, I have to live vicariously through other people’s cool trips and pics. 🙂

  6. td Whittle

    People complain about Franzen a lot, but he is a talented writer. I have not enjoyed everything he has written, or his personal style in interviews, but I won’t begrudge the man his talent. I would add that, even if you don’t agree with him, he’s usually worth listening to and considering. I think he makes some valid points that people just aren’t very interested in hearing. Personally, I don’t have to like a writer to give credit where credit is due.

    It’s a strange time we live in, where writers are expected to be sociable and likeable and extroverted. A lot of our greatest writers were and are none of those things, but they never used to be expected to act as performing monkeys on TV and social media.

    I am interested in the quality of a writer’s work. I don’t read people’s books because they happen to have a high popularity profile on Twitter.

    I think whether or not Franzen’s books sell well at a shop here in Australia has more to do with where the shop is located and the type of clientele it attracts. Certainly, his books sell and have sold well at some of the inner-city shops, which attract a more international customer base. My friends here (Melbourne and beyond) do read him, and so do I.

    • lauratfrey

      Yeah, he seems so bemused by the whole concept of promoting himself. Though as I said, I think he knows what he’s doing in these interviews and knows that he’ll be mocked and criticized which in his case probably makes more people want to read his books, even if it’s a “hate read.” I wonder if the tide will turn for him at some point. I’ll still read him because I like his books.

      Did you read this latest interview? I don’t think it was nearly as bad as people are making it out to be. Yeah he says some boneheaded things. But with respect to Jennifer Weiner, the interview kind of goads him, and Franzen misinterprets her a bit (in my opinion) and the interviewer doesn’t say anything to clarify… it reminds me of when some female celebrities are quoted as saying “I’m not a feminist!” and everyone freaks out; then you read the whole interview and realize they don’t even know what “feminist” means, like “I’m not a feminist because I like men!”

      I would write a post about this but I don’t need to further brand myself a Franzen apologist 🙂

    • bellarah

      I agree about the location of the shop being important- mine was in Sydney in an area similar to Broadmeadows, so the clientele aren’t the right demographic really 🙂 most likely, if it was in the inner west it would have been a different story!

  7. chiggins82

    It was amazing that so few people were getting books signed from Caulfield. Like, no table to sign books, no real line.. Much more just a social event for his colleagues I think!

    Also, is it bad I don’t know who Franzen is?

  8. Stefanie

    This was fun to read. Paltrow and Franzen are two people that are so easy to not like and it feels strangely good. I hope you get to come face to face with Franzen and get that selfie! Biggest author I’ve ever met? Margaret Atwood. I was so tongue-tied I could barely say thanks when she signed my book!

  9. writereads

    Would love to attend BEA – anyone want to be my wealthy benefactor? Anyone?
    I loved this post (I snorted into my tea with “I got nothin”). The book sounds quite interesting, I would be curious to peruse it (I’m so bad about reading non-fiction, perusal is my default in reading it). And the comparison between GP and JF is awesome – perhaps a Bennifer type combo of their names is now needed – Gwynthan? Jonaneth? Palzen? Frantrow? -Tania

  10. Pingback: In my bed: April 2015 | Reading in Bed

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