Dingus of the Week: Definitely Not Jonathan Franzen

A lotta baddies out there, but definitely not Franzen

Hi! Welcome to the Weekly Dingus, my Friday newsletter, where I round up my internet reads, share a drink, and yell about a dingus. Is that dingus a politicianA boat in a canalMy dog? Or maybe it’s just pants. You can read about past weekly dinguses in the archives.

This week, the dingus could be a lot of people. Could be Biden for outlawing the use of horses on the border after Border Patrol agents were photographed using whips on Haitian asylum-seekers. As if the horses were the actual problem here.

Although, the official position of this newsletter is: down with fascist horses.

The dingus could be Rep. Lauren Boebert who used campaign funds on rent and utilities. Which is definitely not legal. Although, illegal has stopped few lawmakers.

Could be this guy, who accidentally said exactly what he meant, when he said he wanted his son’s school to stay white.

Could it have been you?

But I will tell you who doesn’t win the award this week: Jonathan Franzen.

In a profile published by WSJ Magazine, Franzen explains how he was asked to sign the infamous Harper’s Letter but declined, stating:

“I felt it could be construed as somehow an attack on Black Lives Matter at a moment when that was just not the thing to do,” Franzen says. “There’s a chilling of nuanced discourse…but I also think, until people start being sent off to Lubyanka for having said the wrong thing to the wrong person, the risk is probably overblown.”

If you don’t recall, Franzen is a white male novelist. The Harper’s Letter was a letter published in Harper’s magazine decrying the out-of-control liberal left for telling people horrible things, like “don’t be racist” or “stop harassing people.” That letter was the letter that launched a thousand letters. (Full disclosure: I, an actual person who lost their job due in no small part to a backlash mob, signed a counter-letter to the Harper’s Letter. We’ve had some good times here, haven’t we?)

Franzen’s nuanced and thoughtful response was surprising to many people, not because Franzen isn’t thoughtful and nuanced, but because so few people are.

Franzen is often the white-male-novelist punching bag of the internet-discourse age. His last novel, Purity, was not beloved by many critics. And his rules for writing were roundly mocked online. Even Jodi Picoult joined in. Franzen is famously Not Online as any famous novelist should not be. And truly, it’s the dream: To be famous enough to yeet yourself off social media and into the forest where the only tweeting is the birds. And Franzen has done it.

Honestly, I often think of him as an example of how to handle online criticism: walking away from it, writing, and getting very rich. 

I’m doing only one of those things and it’s not getting rich.

But truly, our tweets are like dust in the wind. What lasts is our work and what we do with our lives. And having perspective. And these are all big thoughts I should apply to my own life.

Anyway, are we judging him by a low bar? Yep. But it doesn’t take much not to be a dingus these days. All you have to do is be thoughtful about how your actions might impact others.

Signer of the Letter Jonathan Chait reacted to Franzen’s quote with an equal measure of nuance and thought. Just kidding. He actually spewed off a column further decrying the liberal left. And his examples were debunked by professional debunker Michael Hobbes. (If you haven’t listened to the podcast You’re Wrong About, now is the time.)

Chait handled that bit of pushback by tweeting a lot of words. Words that seem like sentences but don’t actually amount to any thought.

In this world of sin, we know so few things. But one truth we can hold to our hearts is that this week, the dingus was definitely not Jonathan Franzen.

What I am Reading:

This week, I am reading The Feminine Mystique, which I had somehow never read. I expected it to be a little out of date, given that Friedan was a homophobe and in the introduction to the 20th-anniversary edition she all but declared the goals of feminism won. Mission accomplished! But it’s surprisingly and depressingly fresh. 

I’m also reading Divided We Stand, and I learned that Nixon vetoed a child care bill and when I learned this I screamed so loud my wolf dog howled. Because, right now, our child care system is imploding. I even wrote about it.

And I finished the book Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World, which is a beautiful approach to the philosophy of fixing things, from our homes to our justice system to our souls. I absolutely cannot recommend this book enough. 

Given that I am eyeballs deep in books, I didn’t read many deep dives written by the many journalists whose work I love and admire. Except I did read this smart op-ed by Karen Attiah.

Plus, I wrote about LulaRoe and girl bosses and empowerment.

This weekend, I will be in Decorah talking on a panel at the Luther Literary Festival. If you are local, please say hi. 

Also, I am working on doing an event in Ames. SO GET READY, IOWA, I’M GONNA DO THE FULL GRASSLEY.

What I Am Drinking:

This week, in an effort to continue to work on my book, I took myself to a hotel in Des Moines for a night and did a lot of work. Sometimes, working from my house is hard because I am an idiot who adopted two pandemic puppies. And it’s often hard to sustain a thought with them running around the house. And puppies are like babies; you need breaks from them.

The hotel had a lovely bar, and after a dinner of an entire charcuterie board just for me, I asked the bartender which whiskey I should have. After a prolonged discussion about what I had and had not sampled in my life, we settled on Michter’s Kentucky Straight Rye. Which was smooth and delightful and a little sweeter than I am normally used to, which I was told was the “butterscotch notes.”

But my discerning palate can distinguish only between smoky, earthy, and jet fuel.

Men Yell at Me is a newsletter about the places where our bodies and politics collide and yes, the occasional yelling man. Learn more about it and me (Lyz) here. You can sign up to receive the free weekly email, which includes interviews, essays, and original reporting. The Friday email is a weekly round-up of dinguses, drinks, and links. On Monday I have a subscribers-only open thread where we discuss politics and our bodies and more.