The Franzen Project: Tier ranking all of Jonathan Franzen’s books
I first tried to read all of Jonathan Franzen’s books as a project in 2017 and failed. I did, however, have a few runs of Franzen in February, and wrote some highly entertaining (IMO) posts.
It wasn’t the pandemic that pushed me to finally bring this one home in 2021. It was a combo of the Mr. Difficult podcast, a fellow Franzen enthusiast I met on Twitter, and good timing. Having got my greedy hands on a Crossroads ARC (thanks Jenn!), I realized that the ranks of true Franzen completists, already fairly small, would contract again as people catch up on this latest novel.
I was going to do a full ranking, but, despite what you may have heard, his works are pretty diverse, and a meaningful ranking would be difficult. Plus, ranking more than 5-10 items is not good practice (trust me, I write surveys for a living). Then I remembered a modified ranking methodology I learned from my kids, in a video about ranking doors. Yeah:
Further research reveals that “tier ranking” is a Thing in the gaming world, typically used to rank playable characters or levels, and you know what, I like it! Behold:
Books by Jonathan Franzen Tier Ranking
- Crossroads (2021): Elite Franzen. Have you all noticed the usual haters have been awfully quiet this time around? Yeah.
- The Corrections (2001): Could move to A+ upon reread. Dysfunctional family coming together at Christmas time is his forte. Does get a little “quirky” at times but if you are into his quirks it’s all good.
- Freedom (2010): We all need to talk about Patty. And birds.
- The Discomfort Zone (2006): Essential (well, only) memoir.
- How to be Alone (2002): Essential essays, mostly written before he was a Great American Novelist.
- Purity (2015): Enjoyed it while reading, but unmemorable.
- Farther Away (2012): Uneven, great on personal subjects (parents, DFW) but a bit boring on others (birds)
- Strong Motion (1992): Interesting because there are early iterations of some of his favourite themes, but a big old mess.
- The Twenty-Seventh City (1988): Apart from a memorable scene of existential dread set in a mall, a slog.
- The End of the End of the Earth (2018): Maybe because I’d read most of them before? Didn’t make an impression.
- The Kraus Project (2013): There are actually several things I appreciate in this hybrid translation, cultural commentary, and memoir, but unless you are a BIG Franzen fan, and/or have a DEEP interest in early 20th century German literature and thought, I would stay far, far away.
- Spring Awakening (2007): Franzen’s translation of a early 20th century German play, so see above: unless you are a TRUE completist, and/or have a real interest in this kind of thing, I would not recommend. At least it’s short!
You can make your own Franzen tier ranking here, check out other book-related rankings, or, create your own template! I would love to see more literary rankings, as the existing ones are pretty much all YA/MG in nature…
And please argue with me below if you would do this ranking differently!
Yay! I have Crossroads ready at the top of the TBR to start in the new year (will I enjoy it as much as The Corrections, which is still my fave?).
I think so! I need to reread The Corrections, which could go to an A+ ranking. But yes, Crossroads is everything good about Franzen and none of the bad.
Useful! I’m not (yet? maybe yet to come!) a Franzen completist, so I can’t entirely partake. But I’d move 27th City down, and Kraus up. But I already liked Kraus before I read Franzen’s take. And this moves Crossroads up that notional TBR stack.
Yeah, I had a lot of difficulty with Kraus because I was wholly unfamiliar, with him and his contemporaries, I could see the book being a lot more fun if I didn’t have to google things all the time!
I haven’t started on Franzen yet. I got a Kindle copy of The Corrections for free somewhere, which is waiting for me to take the plunge – glad to see it in the A grade tier!
It’s a great book, and very funny!
I love this idea for structuring book posts – the opposite of dry! V entertaining! I’ve only read The Corrections (and can’t face re-reading as I feel my family have slightly *become* The Corrections) and also Freedom so can’t partake in the ranking, but yeah I love the concept.
I might do it again, when I have the chance! And sorry to hear about your family becoming the Lamberts, that cannot be good!!
I didn’t get very far when I attempted Crossroads from the library in November, but I’ll certainly try again. I just need to block out some good time. I want to reread both Freedom and The Corrections. I’ll also have to read How to Be Alone as I generally enjoy his essays (have read all the rest, plus his memoir). It’s probably a ‘never’ for the other C and D stuff.
That is wise on the C and T tiers. I wouldn’t have read most of them without good reason!
I love this project. It would be fun to do this for lots of complete works, but I know I won’t be the one to get around to it. If you were going to do it again, who would you take on next?
I’d love to do one on David Adams Richards but he’s too dang prolific! By the time I finished all the novels, I’d have to reread ones I can’t remember. I think 10-15 books is perfect for this kind of ranking.. It’d be cool to do a classic author too but again, the effort to read them all 🙂
So if I were to read only one Franzen, should it be Crossroads?
Hi Rachel, perhaps I’m an alien as most reviews of Crossroads are very positive. I’m 167 pages in & wouldn’t even use the pages as toilet paper. I’m just not getting it. To me this is a pointless piece of CRAP. You, however, may really enjoy it. This is my first Franzen novel. I’ll attempt another one and genuinely HOPE for a better result. Crossroads, I’ll give, begrudgingly, ONE star.
ok first of all I love this way of ranking and thinking – clearly your boys are geniuses. I read Freedom a long time ago and really enjoyed it -does this mean I will like Crossroads?