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Book award: Did Egan win, or did Franzen lose?

March 15, 2011 |  1:09 pm

The National Book Critics Circle honored Jennifer Egan's novel "A Visit From the Goon Squad" with its fiction prize, an accomplishment reported by Carolyn Kellogg, who attended the awards ceremony Thursday night in New York.

Kellogg's article noted that Egan's win bested "Jonathan Franzen's widely publicized novel 'Freedom' and works by David Grossman, Hans Keilson and Paul Murray."

But who was pictured with the online version of the article? Not Egan, but Jonathan Franzen, who, the caption noted, did not win. (There wasn't a photo with the article in the print edition.)

Readers angrily cried foul.

Fanning the flames was the subheadline on the online article, which named Franzen's book but not Egan's:

Egan beats Franzen in National Book Critics Circle's fiction prize

The Jennifer Egan work bests Jonathan Franzen's 'Freedom.' The nonfiction award goes to 'The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.'

Marjorie Osterhous of Seattle wrote in an e-mail, "Seriously? Seriously??? The news is that literary darling Jonathan Franzen LOST an award, not that (talented but less well-known female) Jennifer Egan WON? Please spend a couple of minutes gazing into your editorial navels today and ask yourselves what happened."

Rebecca Frank of Somerville, Mass., is another who wrote. "Imagine winning one of the most prominent book prizes in the country, and having it reported in one of the most prominent newspapers in the country. A once in a lifetime opportunity, right?” she e-mailed. "Then imagine that the photo of the story is of one of the losers, not you. And that the subtitle to the headline has the name of his book, and not of yours."

And Cynthia Newberry Martin of Columbus, Ga., wrote, "The photo you posted is not of the winning author, Jennifer Egan. In addition, you mention the name of Mr. Franzen's novel, the one that didn't win but it's true was written by a male, while you merely allude to the novel that in fact won the award as 'work.' Granted, 'A Visit from the Goon Squad' has more words in it, but it did win."

The readers have a point about the photo. Why show an author who didn’t win? Especially one who, as Book Critic David L. Ulin noted in September, has been called "the writer we love to hate"?

The headline's omission of the title of Egan's book is a lesser offense. As in Kellogg's article, the headline intended to point out the upset victory over a more widely known work. "Freedom" has been on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller List for 27 straight weeks, seven of those at No. 1. It also was an Oprah Book Club choice. In contrast, "A Visit From the Goon Squad" spent five weeks on the list, and it has received far less publicity. Kellogg was an early fan, though, giving "Goon Squad" a glowing review in June.

Online photo editor Jerome Adamstein gave a possible reason for the use of the Franzen photo, which was taken by a Times photographer in September. There were no Times photos of Egan. And, he said, "AP has a single posed portrait from 2006 that was publisher-supplied." There was nothing more current available.

However, Adamstein conceded, "It is odd not to see the winner, even if it's an older image."

He then swapped out the photo of Franzen for the 2006 photo of Egan along with the cover of her book.

Kellogg doesn't write the headlines or choose the photos that accompany her articles. However, she tried to defuse some of the online furor over the weekend by opening a "complaint desk" Saturday on Twitter. In a tweet, she defended the headline: "I think 'work' was a good call. Egan's book has a complex unique structure -- 'novel' oversimplifies, 'linked stories' is too small."

-- Deirdre Edgar

After the jump are screen grabs of the online article before, with the Franzen photo, and after, with the Egan photo and book cover.

BEFORE:

Franzen

AFTER:

Egan

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