Cover Boy by Jennifer Schuessler – NYTimes.com

As you’ve probably heard by now, Jonathan Franzen is on the cover of this week’s Time magazine, the first living novelist in a decade to be so honored.

“He’s not the richest or most famous,” runs the teaser copy for Lev Grossman’s profile. “His characters don’t solve mysteries, have magical powers or live in the future. But in his new novel, ‘Freedom,’ Jonathan Franzen shows us the way we live now.”

As it turns out, Franzen himself has had some salty words to say about the role of money and fame in Time’s selection of literary cover boys (and, occasionally, girls). One commenter to the Arts Beat blog noted this passage from Franzen’s 1996 essay “Perchance to Dream,” commonly known as “the Harper’s essay”:

“The only mainstream American household I know well is the one I grew up in, and I can report that my father, who was not a reader, nevertheless had some acquaintance with James Baldwin and John Cheever, because Time magazine put them on its cover and Time, for my father, was the ultimate cultural authority. In the last decade, the magazine whose red border twice enclosed the face of James Joyce has devoted covers to Scott Turow and Stephen King. These are honorable writers; but no one doubts it was the size of their contracts that won them covers. The dollar is now the yardstick of cultural authority, and an organ like Time, which not long ago aspired to shape the national taste, now serves mainly to reflect it.”

(For a wonderfully comprehensive look at the 83 literary figures to appear on the cover of Time, check out Craig Fehrman’s article for The Millions.)

This article was published on The New York Times Blog.

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