Dear Jonathan Franzen,
I would call you Sir, but you're somewhat of an abstraction to me. A concept, if you will. First, let me tell you that I'm a fan of your work and that I am not trying to blow smoke up your ass here. I have read all of your books, except for THE TWENTY-SEVENTH CITY and THE DISCOMFORT ZONE and thought they ranged from great to sublime. I would be one of the only "serious readers" I know, willing to compare your fiction favorably to the one of your recently deceased friend, David Foster Wallace. I think both of you are great, but I understand your ideas better and to some extent, understand and share your worries about Occidental society. Your writings influenced mine, but that's beside the point. I just wanted you to know that I'm on your side most of the time.
I'm writing you today, to address the comments you've made on the damaging nature of eBooks. I will quote you: "Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it's just not permanent enough" and "“I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change". Let me speak to you in barroom vernacular for a second. Man, what the fuck?
I'm not sure wether it's Lenin or another of those Russian leaders that said that philosophy is the priviledge of the well-fed*, but your passionate defense of physical books make you sounds like you haven't missed a meal or had trouble paying your bills in many years. Selling millions of copies of your books will do that to you. I know from reading your essay collection HOW TO BE ALONE that you're rather worried about the state of literature and reading today. Well, I think the "sense of permanency" is the last thing you should worry about then. eBooks are doing a lot more good than harm, both for readers and writers and the fact that you seem absolutely oblivious to this reality makes me wonder how long it's been since you have stepped out in "the territory" as Mark Twain said.
First of all, I know you will never have to worry about this, but do you know how many terrific writers are being weeded out of print edition for factors that have nothing to do with the quality of their writing? To make place for the James Patterson and Jodi Picoult** of this world, authors with more bold and original ideas are being pushed aside and receive form rejection letters in their mailbox everyday. For every Chad Harbach, there are 9999 nameless writers who will never make it because they're not commercial enough. The market Amazon created has its defaults, sure. But it also allowed many talented writers to reclaim their rightful place in the literary landscape. Writers like Vincent Zandri and Allan Guthrie have made good use of the Kindle market and are now back into print. Isn't it amazing?
I know what you're going to say. They are crime writers. I can see the disgust on your face when you say "genre" fiction. To this one, I can only answer "to each his own". But think like this. Genre fiction is more popular than literary in general. I know your books sell more than most genre authors, but you're an exception. Whenever something new in literature will happen, genre writers will run to it first. The competition is more fierce in their field and there are a lot more of them. So the Kindle market is not a "genre haven" or anything. At least, I don't think it is. I don't think it's different than the print market. Literary writers will slowly follow the more commercial minded ones and it's OK. I read literary fiction and I read crime also. Does it make me less of a "serious reader"?
Also, think about the reader that doesn't have too much financial ressources, a day job, kids and who still loves a good story. Not only the eReaders are financially viable, but they're also use as a platform for the rebirth of extinct species. Literary magazines, short story anthologies, freakin' novellas are coming back strong. Who would have thought? Passionate people like David Cranmer, editor of Beat to a Pulp, is using the eBook format to try and spark another pulp magazine era. Do you remember pulp magazines? They are relics of an era where MEN READ FICTION. Last week, I was standing behind a man at the grocery store, who read a Joe Lansdale collection. JOE LANSDALE!
My point is, eBooks are helping the spread of quality writing better than the print industry right now. I will grant you that it's still the Far-West over there, but one survives by the quality of his writing and the readers are the only judges. They are also democratizing reading. eReaders make it cheaper than ever to read and due to the chaotic nature of its platform, a reader is most likely to find exactly what he wants in matter of themes and style, even if he doesn't know the name of any writers. People that just want "a good story" are more likely to find it on the Kindle Store than in a bookstore, served by a snobbish English student.
That said, I understand your technophobia. Social medias can be a murderer for the craft and sometimes I wish I didn't slip my finger between the cogs. But reading is reading and except for the Kindle Fire (which I don't approve of), everything there is to a Kindle is text. Stories to read. Your stories. My stories even. You have to step out there and face things to realize that technology isn't a monolithic monster that preys on your creativity. I'm sure a rational man like you can make the difference in between a Kindle and Facebook.
So, isn't "permanency" something a little silly to worry about? You're the flag-bearer for serious fiction writers, at the dawn of a literary revolution. Your word is important. Please, don't be a part of the problem, like that nincompoop Harold Bloom, who behaves like aesthetism has been raped every time WAR & PEACE hasn't been re-written. I don't think that print books and eBooks will ever compete until we, the savage humans, ransack the last forest on Earth, but eBooks is getting people interested in literature again. I dare to believe that it gives written fiction a new, fresher image.
Please, don't grow irrelevant. You're an important writer for me and I'd hate to see you miss the boat.
* I'm paraphrasing, I know. The integrity of the quote is not important here.
** By the way, don't worry. I know she badly wants to be considered on the same level as you, but I know better.