Pop Culture

Oprah chooses Franzen’s ‘Freedom’ for book club

Oprah Winfrey has forgiven Jonathan Franzen. Nine years after picking Franzen's "The Corrections" for her book club and then canceling his appearance on her show after he expressed ambivalence over her endorsement, Winfrey has chosen his new novel, "Freedom."

"I am really betting that 'Freedom' by Jonathan Franzen will end up being for you, as it is for me, one of the best novels you have ever read," Winfrey said on a live episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" as she announced her 64th book club selection. "When is the last time you heard that? I am not kidding." Winfrey's decision tells a story she loves well, one of redemption, and cites a book that itself redeems a troubled Minnesota-based family. Released in late August, "Freedom" was virtually canonized by critics before publication and has been topping best-seller lists even without Oprah's approval. Franzen was the subject of a Time Magazine cover story, titled "Great American Novelist," and anticipation was so great that President Barack Obama secured an early copy while visiting a bookstore on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. Franzen, 51, is widely regarded as a leading fiction writer of his generation, but has been branded, with a scarlet "S," as in snob, for his comments in 2001 about Oprah's book club. He called some of her picks "schmaltzy" and worried about his place in the "high-end literary tradition."

But at the same time, he praised Winfrey for making some good choices and for "fighting the good fight." He apologized quickly and repeatedly, but Winfrey's mind was unchanged. Now, with the selection of "Freedom," the "S" has apparently been removed and changed to an "O," the Oprah book club logo that will appear on new shipments of the novel. "Freedom" had already gone into a second printing, with 300,000 copies in print, and is virtually assured of selling hundreds of thousands of copies. "Freedom" is Winfrey's 64th pick and places Franzen in a special category: The rare author to have more than one book in her club; in 2001, Winfrey only revoked her invitation to have Franzen on her show, and not her recommendation of "The Corrections," a million-seller that remains listed on her Web site.

"Freedom" is a comic and tragic epic of contemporary love and marriage. Published in 2010, this masterly crafted novel captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, and the responsibility of privilege. Charting the characters' mistakes and joys as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever-changing and confusing world, “Freedom” is an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.

Winfrey's choices are usually made weeks in advance of their announcement, so it's possible Franzen already knew when, in mid-August, he told a reporter for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis that he would be happy if Winfrey picked "Freedom" and that he and the talk show host were not "very far apart" in their thinking. Franzen has often said he wants to write novels of substance and popular appeal. Author Jonathan Franzen will appear on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in November. Details about the upcoming episode will be available online at a later date.