Video: Jonathan Franzen tells Stephen Colbert a bedtime story

This week, Jonathan Franzen’s latest book, “Purity,” tops the Los Angeles Times bestseller list after seven weeks on the chart. Franzen is among America’s most high-profile novelists, and he likely reached many new readers with an appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

In a sketch in which a pajama-wearing Colbert sat in bed with a teddy bear, Franzen read -- not an excerpt of his new novel, nor anything from his earlier bestsellers “Freedom” and “The Corrections” -- but a bedtime story.

Franzen has a great reading voice, and he got the comic timing right in the story. Called “Little Red Reading Hood,” the story tells the tale of a young reader finding that a wolf has taken over her grandmother’s independent bookstore.

Could it be an allegory? Attentive viewers will easily read between the lines to see that in the fable; the unnamed wolf is Amazon.


On his satirical show, Colbert was serious about taking on Amazon in 2014. Amazon and Colbert’s publisher, Hachette, were in a business dispute, and the online retailer had been making it harder for readers to find Hachette’s books. On the strength of a live recommendation from writer Sherman Alexie, Colbert and his viewers bypassed Amazon and made Edan Lepucki’s novel “California” a bestseller by buying it through other retailers.

In the sketch, when Franzen (who is not published by Hachette) finishes the story, Colbert makes a series of quick jokes. Franzen is caught between replying and cracking up.

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