Jonathan Franzen’s Away Message


This time of year, I’d usually be kicking off another round of Franzen in February, but due to my unplanned, two-month blogging hiatus, I don’t have my shit together.

So, sadly, this year I will not be bringing you any new Franzen conspiracy theories, nor will I be peer pressuring anyone into reading their First Franzen (which has generally not gone well).

But I just remembered, the most amazing Franzen-related incident of my life occurred during my hiatus, and while I regaled everyone on social media, YouTube, and even IRL, I haven’t shared it with you, dear readers.

Last year, I sent Jonathan Franzen a letter through his publisher. While I didn’t expect to received a response, I figured I may as well “go big or go home” for my first foray into physical fan mail writing. Plus, I actually had something to say. I’d had an unasked question bothering me since 2015, when I saw him at Book Expo America, and he made some comments about the “ickiness” of male authors writing female leads. He’s written about this before, and I find it so strange, because he writes female leads (or, really, writes ensemble casts that include females). So I asked him about it. And eleven months later, he wrote me back.

It took me another two months to write him back (he wrote “does that make sense” at the end of his email which means he definitely wanted me to??) and I got the away message at the top of this post, which was, in a weird way, almost as exciting as getting the original email response, because it means it’s his *real* email, not just an account he uses for responding to potentially insane fans. Also, look at that typo in “emaill”! Best selling authors: they’re just like us.

Anyway, I’m guessing JFranz was on a birding expedition, and I hope he had a good time. I’ll certainly report back if I get another response, though I of course will never reveal the full contents of his emails – you’ll have to wait for my collected correspondence to be released after my death.

(And if any of you want to guest posts a Franzen review this month, do get in touch!)



  1. Rebecca Foster

    Ha ha, that typo in the out-of-office is too funny! There are still three Franzen books I haven’t read — The Twenty-Seventh City, Strong Motion, and How to Be Alone — but unless you tell me otherwise I won’t race to read them. I’m looking forward to his new essay collection out in November, and I intend to reread The Corrections at some point since it was recommended by the bibliotherapist I saw in London re: ageing parents. I didn’t like it the first time I read it, but I wasn’t really a Franzen fan at the time so feel I should give it another try.

    • lauratfrey

      The Twenty Seventh City is worth a read. I haven’t read Strong Motion but have only heard bad things about that one! And I have not read any of his essay collections (though many individual essays) – and I did not know there was a new one coming out! I will mark my calendar 🙂 I love The Corrections so much. It’s a bit scary on the aging parents front. Not a pretty picture.

  2. annelogan17

    hahah I loved this post. And I really do hope you get a reply, and you and Franzen become pen pals…and then he bases a future book character off you…and then you suddenly become his muse…and then…your lives become intertwined in this crazy way…and then he writes a book about it! Sorry my imagination is getting away with me here, I’ve been eating too many sour patch kids.

  3. bookbii

    I am vaguely tempted to try Franzen now, except that I’m too caught up in my own aging white male American writer (DeLillo) but then you’ve inspired me. I *almost* wrote to him last year and I balked. Perhaps now I will. Cool blog!

  4. Didi

    It’s so cool having contact with an author we love and admire. Authors are definitely higher up than movie stars. Keep us posted on any new developments. 🙂

  5. Pingback: The Franzen Project: Tier ranking all of Jonathan Franzen’s books | Reading in Bed

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