Jonathan Franzen, arguably the most anticipated author at Book Expo, will be featured at the show’s opening session today to talk about Purity (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Sept. 1), his long-awaited novel and his first in five years. Franzen will be in discussion with Laura Miller, cofounder of Salon.com, in the Special Events Hall, Room 1E12/1E13/1E14, 12:30–1:30 p.m.
Indie booksellers will be pleased to know that Franzen is putting most of his publicity effort into supporting their stores. “He feels strongly that independent bookstores should be the focus of his book tour,” says FSG director and v-p Jeff Seroy. “So Jonathan will use every bit of time we have for him to visit California, where he spends much of his time these days; throughout the Midwest, where he’s from; and in New York. In addition, nearly all of his appearances will be sponsored and organized by independents.” Following publication, Franzen will go abroad to promote Purity for his foreign publishers.
It took Franzen 10 years to write Freedom, his last megaselling novel. It could be said that Purity, coming about five years later but with nearly the same heft (576 pages), has arrived in comparatively record time. Not so, says Jonathan Galassi, Franzen’s longtime editor and FSG’s president and publisher. “The Corrections came out in 2001, and Freedom in 2010,” he says. “I think the numbers are a little misleading, perhaps because once Franzen homes in on his subject and themes he writes his books amazingly quickly. It’s getting to the point of commitment that is the variable.”
Purity is about a young woman, Pip, with an enormous student debt, squatting in Oakland with anarchists. Her only family is her mother, with whom she has a troublesome relationship; the identity of her father is a mystery to her. Purity, Pip’s real name, ends up following a German peace activist to South America to intern in a political organization.
“I think you’ll see that Purity is a different kind of novel for Jonathan,” Galassi says. “Its narration is more plot-driven. He’s expanded his range here in a work that is both richly comic and deeply searching—and it ranges quite far in time and geography. It’s a family novel, but in a new kind of way.”
FSG announced a first printing of 350,000. To back that up, Seroy says there will be coverage on national TV and NPR, and Franzen’s first exclusive, in-depth print and online interview will be with the Guardian, whose U.S. readership figures are impressive.” This will simultaneously support Fourth Estate, his U.K. publisher, who is launching Purity at the same time, in addition to 10 other countries.
Franzen’s appearance today is an “all convention” event, no tickets required. Seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis, and the room will be set with table rounds of 10. Attendees are allowed to bring lunch, since it is shortly after noon. “The room holds about a thousand people,” says Roger Bilheimer, BEA’s special events director. “It’s anybody’s call about what time to start standing in line, but an hour to an hour and a half before the event might make sense.” Directly after his talk, Franzen will be signing ARCs of Purity in the ABA lounge, Room 214.
This article appeared in the May 27, 2015 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.