Don’t Want to Read Jonathan Franzen? Try Kickstarter.
How much would someone have to pay you to read a book you had no interest in? For local writer and artist Amy Collier, it’s about $5000. That’s how much she’s requesting in a Kickstarter campaign aptly titled, “Finance My Reading of Jonathan Franzen.” For $5000, she’ll read Freedom, but prices go up from there, with Breakup Stories at a stretch goal of $100,000. The campaign initially started out as a Craigslist post, jokingly posted in honor of International Women’s Day last week, but it has a more serious side, as well. Collier, who’s also been published on The Toast and newyorker.com, runs a site called Uncovered Classics, which aims to review more literature written by women in the 20th century.
“About a year and a half ago, I realized that most of the authors on my bookshelf were men, and most of my favorite authors were male,” says Collier. “I started to think about why that was, why that problem existed, and what I can do to change it.” We asked her some questions about the campaign below, but you can read more about it, including which authors she recommends reading instead of Mr. Franzen, on her Kickstarter page.
How did the Craigslist post come about?
In short, f—king around on Facebook. I was joking about the Jonathan Franzen reading rate on Facebook, and a friend of mine, she suggested making a Craigslist ad and I was like, all right, I’ll do that. Done!
Did you get answers from people?
I got a couple answers, but it’s very clearly a joke. People have mostly been very positive and supportive, especially on social media. We live in a time where everybody can kind of speak the language of that kind of online humor. So I don’t think it’s really lost on very many people.
So why should people give you money to read Jonathan Franzen?
We live in a white supremacist patriarchy and that means the literature we are expected to be familiar with is very limited and often very flawed. Women are expected to be familiar with a very male canon. Men are not expected to be familiar with female authors, and this creates a lot of inequality and imbalances, and I was just thinking, Jonathan Franzen, I’ve never read anything by him, I’m not interested in reading anything by him. He comes up in conversation all the time with literary people. People who don’t even really like his work are often familiar with him. Why is that? Why is it expected for us to be familiar with him? I was thinking, what would it really be worth it to me to read a book by Jonathan Franzen?
In the original Craigslist ad, it was $1000 as a starting point, and then I thought about that more and it just seemed way too low. Once this became more of a thing, I was like, all right, what would it really be worth it for me to spend the amount of hours it takes to read a novel that I really wouldn’t like reading? It wouldn’t be an enjoyable process for me. What would really make it worth my while? $5000 would make it worth my while! That is a perfectly reasonable request, I think.
That’s a good hourly rate.
Yeah, it is. For me, it’s a win/win situation. Either I get $5000, or I don’t have to read Jonathan Franzen.
Do you see Jonathan Franzen being representative of something that’s a larger issue?
Exactly. You could really switch out Jonathan Franzen’s name with a lot of other male authors who’ve come off as misogynists or been criticized for misogyny and the project would mean essentially the same thing. He’s one of many, unfortunately. There’s value to reading male canon. I’m not saying it should be thrown out the door, but we need to take a closer look at parity. And also we need to take a closer look at the compulsory nature of canon, why we expect people to be familiar with certain writers and what that means about our society.
Should the Kickstarter be funded, are you emotionally prepared to read some Jonathan Franzen?
That’s a good question. I will take the bullet. I will do it. I will live up to that expectation for sure. Again, I would love $5000, so yeah, I will do it.
How did you decide how to rank the books?
Purity was higher on the list because I’ve heard really horrible things about it, and I think it would just be an incredibly annoying reading experience. Breakup Stories I know literally nothing about other than the title and the author, and that is enough for me never to want to read it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.