As the first Talking Volumes guest of the season, Jonathan Franzen was alternately hilarious and seriously candid Tuesday night with host Kerri Miller. Photo by David Bowman.

In a recent interview with the Star Tribune, author Jonathan Franzen said he tries to "be entertaining" at book events he headlines. Tuesday night he made good on that for the packed house at the Fitzgerald Theater -- the audience included Marlon James, who was just short-listed for the Booker Prize  -- as the first guest of the Talking Volumes season.

Minnesota Public Radio's Kerri Miller matched Franzen laugh for laugh, charmingly challenging him on some issues that have made him a source of controversy in literary circles. She began right off the bat asking him about ire he has raised among women writers accusing him of sexism.

"Oh, is it vegetables tonight? No dessert?" quipped Franzen, who is promoting his new novel "Purity."

"Maybe just vegetables," Miller replied.

In a wide-ranging exchange covering the complexities of the characters in "Purity" to his recent experience going to traffic school online after receiving a citation in his home territory of Santa Cruz, Calif., Franzen let loose with one bon mot after another. In place of road rage, he said, he has developed "road empathy." He told Miller, "what you call passive aggression, we call politeness."

Though he finds accusations that he's sexist to be a bunch of hooey, Franzen opened up on a former attitude he now regrets -- that he used to feel smarter than his readers, "and my first two novels didn't sell too well."

Talking Volumes is an author series presented by the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio in collaboration with the Loft Literary Center. Miller's interview with Franzen will be broadcast on MPR at noon Monday, Sept. 21. 

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