Franzen on Books, E-Books, and Permanence

Jonathan Franzen, regretting the rise (and, it seems, existence) of e-books:  

“Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”

For serious readers, Franzen said, “a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience”. “Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change,” he continued. “Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.”

Luckily for Franzen, not all printed books are as permanent as all that. From the October 2011 article “Jonathan Franzen’s book Freedom suffers UK recall”:

In a highly embarrassing move, publishers HarperCollins were today forced to offer to exchange thousands of copies after Franzen revealed that the UK edition of a novel dubbed “the book of the century” is based on an early draft manuscript, and contains hundreds of mistakes in spelling, grammar and characterisation.

More than 8,000 copies of the faulty first edition have been sold since it was published last week, with 80,000 hardbacks of the book in print. The mistakes were discovered yesterday.

Franzen told the Guardian that the book, the follow-up to 2001’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated The Corrections, contained “a couple of hundred differences at the level of word and sentence and fact” as well as “small but significant changes to the characterisations of Jessica and Lalitha” – the daughter and the assistant of one of the novel’s central characters.

HarperCollins, who say the errors are mainly typographical, have launched a hurried operation to let purchasers exchange their faulty copy via bookshops or pre-paid post. The new version is being rushed through the printers over the weekend and will be available early next week.