“Who is it you are writing for? It surely could not be the average person who just enjoys a good read.”

The reader who asked Jonathan Franzen this question touched a nerve. Franzen’s answer — a 30-page essay titled “Mr. Difficult” — describes two models for relationships between writers and readers. In the “Status” model, writers aim to create great art, and if only scholars can appreciate it, so what? In the “Contract” model,” every writer is “first a member of a community of readers, and the deepest purpose of reading and writing fiction is to sustain a sense of connectedness” (240). Franzen has a remarkably prickly relationship with many readers. Even his defenders acknowledge he’s “the Internet’s collective punching bag.”

Franzen, Jonathan. “Mr. Difficult.” How to Be Alone: Essays. Picador, 2003, p. 239.

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