The following essay by Jonathan Franzen appeared in The New Yorker. The following text has been transcribed from the 30 September 2002 issue.
For a while last winter, after my third novel came out, I was getting a lot of angry mail from strangers. What upset them was not the novel — a comedy about a family in crisis — but some impolitic remarks I'd made in the press, and I knew that it was a mistake to send more than bland one-sentence notes in reply. But I couldn't help fighting back a little. Taking a page from an old literary hero of mine, William Gaddis, who had long deplored the reading public's confusion of the writer's work and the writer's private self, I suggested that the letter writers look at my fiction rather than listen to distorted news reports about its author.
A few months later, one of the original senders, a Mrs. M—, in Maryland, wrote back with proof that she'd done the reading. She began by listing thirty fancy words and phrases from my novel, words like "diurnality" and "antipodes," phrases like "electro-pointillist Santa Claus faces." She then posed the dreadful question: "Who is it that you are writing for? It surely could not be the average person who just enjoys a good read." And she offered this caricature of me and my presumed audience: