Franzen's latest book, minus the corrections, to be withdrawn

Tim Walker
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:33

He named his previous novel the The Corrections, but perhaps Jonathan Franzen should have saved the title for his latest work.

British first editions of Freedom, the new book by the acclaimed American author, are to be pulped by its publisher, HarperCollins, after it emerged there were errors in the text.

During a publicity event at London's Southbank Centre on Thursday evening, Franzen, 51, admitted to his audience that the 562-page tome enjoying pride of place in every bookstore window in Britain was not, in fact, his finished version, but an earlier edit that had been mistakenly sent to the presses. "Needless to say, not everyone is happy about that," he said. "Those of you who haven't read the book, thank you for holding off."

More than 8,000 copies of the initial print run of 80,000 have been sold since the book reached the shelves earlier this week. A corrected final hardback edition is being printed hastily over the weekend, to go on sale from Monday. According to a spokesperson from Fourth Estate, the HarperCollins imprint that publishes Franzen in Britain, "The typesetters sent off an earlier version than the final corrected proof, so it was the uncorrected proof that went out."

This uncorrected version was the same text that was sent to reviewers, earning an ecstatic critical response despite its mistakes, which Fourth Estate describes as "minor – the odd word, spelling, punctuation, that sort of thing". There are believed to be around 50 such errors in the printed text. Minor, maybe, but the recall and reprint is likely to cost the publishers many thousands of pounds.

It's a measure of Franzen's clout in the publishing world that the book is being recalled for a scattering of errors of the kind that frequently creeps into first editions, usually to be corrected quietly in time for the paperback.

HarperCollins is offering to replace copies, though the word on the social networking sites suggests readers plan to keep them in the hope that they will accrue extra value as literary curiosities – a sure sign that many already consider Freedom a classic. Following Franzen's talk at the Southbank Centre, there was reportedly a rush on the book stall by those keen to purchase a collector's item.

Franzen's elevation into the top rank of American novelists came with his third novel, The Corrections, which was published in September 2001. The book won the prestigious US National Book Award for fiction, and has gone on to sell around three million copies worldwide. He has since published How to be Alone (2002), a book of essays, and his 2006 memoir, The Discomfort Zone.

Both contributed to his reputation for curmudgeonliness, particularly the essay "Why Bother?" which lamented the state of modern literary fiction. Yet it seems he is taking this small catastrophe in his stride.

"Jonathan has spent 10 years writing this book, so obviously he wants every word to be as it was when he left his computer," said Fourth Estate's spokesperson. "But he understands that it's just one of those things."

Franzen has made a habit of appearing in the news pages as well as the arts sections.

In 2001, he fell foul of Oprah Winfrey when The Corrections was chosen as one of the titles for her book club. Franzen made it known that he was uncomfortable with the honour, describing some of Winfrey's other choices as "schmaltzy". She dropped his book from the list but the pair have since reconciled their differences, and Freedom will feature in this year's book club.

With the US publication of Freedom, however, came other privileges and problems. Franzen was pictured on the cover of Time magazine, a rare honour for a fiction writer. President Obama took a pre-publication copy of the book on vacation.

The media focus on Franzen irked some of his female rivals, specifically the writers Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, who complained that The New York Times and its ilk were fixated on "white male literary darlings".

Despite its author's unerring ability to wind people up, Freedom has been welcomed as warmly as The Corrections on both sides of the Atlantic.

The corrected versions of the book will be identifiable to potential readers by a sticker bearing a quote, from the review in The New York Times that so incensed Picoult and Weiner, calling Freedom "a masterpiece of American fiction".

Pulped fiction

*Andrew Marr's non-fiction bestseller A History of Modern Britain was recalled in 2009 after women's rights campaigner Erin Pizzey took legal action over an inaccuracy. The BBC journalist and former Independent editor had falsely linked her to militant group the Angry Brigade.

*The Jewel of Medina, by journalist Sherry Jones, was pulped in 2008 when a Texas professor read a proof and declared it "a national security issue". Jones's publishers Random House halted publication of the novel, about the life of one of the Prophet Mohamed's wives.

*The Wicked Bible was a faulty reprint of the King James Bible, published in London in 1631 with a glaring error in its wording of the sixth commandment, which read: "Thou shalt commit adultery". Eleven copies remain in existence; the others were burned on the orders of Charles I.

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