Future Tense

Jonathan Franzen Thinks Ebooks Are Not for “Serious Readers”

Author Jonathan Franzen speaks on stage during The 2011 New Yorker Festival. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New Yorker)

Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New Yorker

Jonathan Franzen, the author of The Corrections and Freedom, has no patience for e-readers, he tells the Telegraph:

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. …

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.


Franzen admits that he doesn’t have a “crystal ball” and can’t predict how readers will feel in 50 years. However, his argument that real book lovers will favor a hard copy is a bit insulting: Many “literature-crazed,” “serious readers” have found the Kindle to suit their needs better than hard books; for one thing, you can carry an entire library when traveling, rather than having to select two or three books.


His points about permanence, on the other hand, are rather strange. The Telegraph’s Tom Chivers notes:

Does he think that e-publishers will surreptitiously edit classic works? Perhaps sprinkle Beowulf with Starbucks adverts, or weave party political messages subtly into the text of Jane Eyre? In all honesty, I suspect that this is an example of a very clever man using his considerable brainpower to dress up unconscious prejudice in what sounds like reasoned argument. Mr Franzen doesn’t like e-books; he prefers reading books. But he can’t simply say as much, so he wraps it in a layer of talk about “permanence” and “responsible self-government”.

What would be best is if people who don’t like a new technology—OK, let’s be honest and call them Luddites—could admit that they simply are happy with the existing strategies. It’s not necessary to disparage the technology and everyone who enjoys it as somehow less serious or missing a grand philosophical point.