Jonathan Franzen Reads Stephen Colbert a Terrifying Bedtime Story

Posted on October 29, 2015

National Book Award winner Jonathan Franzen was a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to talk about his latest novel Purity. Franzen was a good sport: he participated in a comedy sketch with Colbert. Stephen had on his pajamas (with a tie underneath, of course). He was tucked into bed with his teddy bear and asked Franzen to read him a bedtime story.

Franzen, attired in his usual Serious Author ensemble, sat in a rustic rocking chair and read Stephen a terrifying tale called Little Red Reading Hood. Poking fun at his reputation as sometimes spending more time on the moral of a story than on character development, he spun a tale about a little girl who visits her Grandmother's independent bookstore.

To Little Red Reading Hood's horror, she discovers her beloved Grandmother has been eaten and replaced by a big bad Wolf (cough - Amazon -- cough). Little Red Riding Hood tells the Wolf, "My what big eyes you have!" The Wolf replied, "the better to see your consumer preferences and target you with advertising." When she pointed out his big ears, the Wolf say they were "to hear your opinions on the products I sell." To the charge he had big hands, he replied, "the better to give you free overnight shipping." But the best reply was to her comment about the Wolf's big, big teeth: "the better to gobble up every retailer in the world, because then I can gobble up every consumer too, and finally earn a profit for my shareholders!"

Eventually the United States Department of Justice rescues (in a somewhat violent fashion) the people and independent bookstores the Wolf swallowed. Stephen wasn't going to let Franzen off so easily though. He noted that Wolves are endangered creatures and that it is a federal crime to cut open the Wolf so Franzen could be arrested. Franzen noted that it wasn't he that did the cutting, it was the Justice Department. And anyway, the sewed the Wolf back up and he's fine.

A skeptical Stephen noted, "that wasn't in the story." Stephen ended the sketch by announcing, "Jonathan Franzen's book is Purity...get it today!" while pulling the book out of an box. We can't imagine how Colbert talked him into doing this, but it was hilarious. And on another subject, Who knew Franzen's baritone voice was so perfect for storytelling?

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