Diary: Oprah hope for Franzen

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The Independent Online

Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom, this column's favourite Great American Novel of the past six months, had a famous falling-out with Oprah Winfrey in 2001. Winfrey invited Franzen to appear in her influential Book Club with his previous novel, The Corrections, but pointedly withdrew the offer when he was quoted elsewhere, saying he feared her endorsement would deter the male half of his desired audience, and sully his book with a "corporate logo". Oprah's ire didn't stop Franzen selling 2.85 million copies of The Corrections – in fact, it probably helped. Seasoned Winfrey-watchers assumed there was still bad blood between them when September's issue of her magazine, O, failed to feature Freedom in its "10 Titles To Pick Up Now". Yet it seems she might just have been delaying her forgiveness: citing "reliable sources", literary blogger Dennis Johnson claims Oprah has selected Freedom for her new Book Club list, due to be unveiled on Friday. Not that Franzen needs the help these days; the book already tops the New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists.

* Russell Crowe's next role could add a new skill to his already considerable combat repertoire: kung fu. According to Wu-Tang Clan founder-turned-actor RZA, Crowe is due to star alongside him in historical martial arts flick The Man With the Iron Fist, which RZA is also directing. "I won't spoil it for you, but Russell's gonna be the baddest man alive," the rapper told E! Online. In the film, due to start filming in Shanghai this December, RZA will play "a weapons-making village blacksmith in feudal China". He hasn't revealed anything specific about Crowe's character, but added: "That man is in fighting shape. That man will knock you out." That much we knew already.

* Another blow landed in the latest bout of TB-GBs yesterday, as Harvard announced Gordon Brown would appear as a visiting fellow later this month. Mr Brown, said the university, will deliver the "Malcolm Wiener Lecture in International Political Economy" on 23 September. A small victory for Brown after Blair's withering portrayal of him in A Journey: according to the latest QS global rankings, Harvard is the world's second-best university. After leaving office, Blair – he of the "second-class mind" – began his teaching career at Yale, which is third.

* Did Miliband (E) once date the woman on whom Donna from The West Wing was based? A rumour is going round that Ed met the unidentified lady on a year's sabbatical to Harvard (that place again). Given that the character based on Obama presciently beat the character based on McCain to the White House, and that Donna dated the pseudo-Obama's chief of staff, Josh, who was based on Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, I'm prepared to speculate that Miliband (E)'s previous alleged involvement with the real Donna means... well, not a lot, really.

* The renowned fashion illustrator David Downton was commissioned by Vogue to draw the three potential prime ministers prior to the general election, but he had a bit of trouble recognising them all. "They weren't posing for me so I did it from photographs," he told me at the launch of his new book, Masters of Fashion Illustration. "It was Gordon Brown, David Cameron and the other one. I had to draw Nick Clegg and I kept saying, 'Who's Nick Clegg?' We were asking everyone if it looked like Nick Clegg, and nobody knew what he looked like. Two weeks later, he was the most famous man in England, so I looked back at the drawing – and it looked nothing like him."