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London Police Catch Prankster Who Stole Writer Jonathan Franzen's Eyeglasses

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London Police Catch Prankster Who Stole Writer Jonathan Franzen's Eyeglasses


London Police Catch Prankster Who Stole Writer Jonathan Franzen's Eyeglasses

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

Now, it's not often we get to report on London cocktail party capers, but last night saw one of the more surreal episodes we can remember. The American writer Jonathan Franzen was at a book party at the Serpentine Gallery - this was the U.K. launch of his new novel, "Freedom" - when two men appeared, snatched the glasses right off the end of Franzen's nose, handed him a ransom note that read: $100,000, your glasses are yours again and then fled.

Jonathan Franzen is on the line with us now from London.

And let me let you pick up this story. You're at this party. When did you realize something was afoot?

Mr. JONATHAN FRANZEN (Author, "Freedom"): Somebody shouted: Channel 4, Channel 4, and grabbed the glasses from my face and took off running, and I actually thought, because I was suddenly blind, I thought it was my editor, warning me that Channel 4 from the BBC had arrived. So I trotted after this person and knew something was amiss...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRANZEN: ...only when I saw him leap a five-foot fence and disappear into the trees.

KELLY: So you thought this was like a glamour shot and he wanted your glasses off because the TV film crew had arrived?

Mr. FRANZEN: Or maybe they weren't supposed to be there, and he was trying to hide me or something, and the easiest thing was just to snatch my glasses. I was not actually handed the ransom note, somebody else was. I found out about that later. But several people gave chase and managed to trap this person against the Serpentine, which is a body of water in Hyde Park, and before long, the police were involved. And there was a police helicopter because I guess...

KELLY: It's a police helicopter?

Mr. FRANZEN: ...the police feared the person a helicopter was involved. The (unintelligible)...

KELLY: Summoned because of the theft of your glasses?

Mr. FRANZEN: Well, no. I think that the fear was that this person had gone into the water in an effort to escape and might perish in the water.


Mr. FRANZEN: And he was eventually coaxed out of some bushes, and a very nice police officer showed up about half an hour later where I was having dinner and gave me the glasses back, unharmed. And it's actually not as weird as what have been going on the few days earlier when the entire first edition of the U.K. edition of the book had had to be recalled for pulping.

KELLY: A typesetting error in the first edition. Yeah. It's been quite a week for you in London.

Mr. FRANZEN: Yeah, a serious typesetting error. Yes, exactly.

KELLY: What a week for you.

Mr. FRANZEN: So...

KELLY: Well, let me get back to these culprits who were cornered behind a bush after they swam across the lake in Hyde Park. I gather you're not pressing charges.

Mr. FRANZEN: Oh, absolutely not. No. No hard feelings.

KELLY: Any idea who...

Mr. FRANZEN: It was...

KELLY: ...who these fugitives?

Mr. FRANZEN: I was recalled really to...

KELLY: Yeah.

Mr. FRANZEN: ...the '70s. It seemed like a street girl in a store or maybe like somebody and I was grateful that they had not put a cream pie on my face, that they've just stolen the glasses.

KELLY: Just temporarily blinded you at your book launch?

Mr. FRANZEN: That's right.

KELLY: Well, are you able, Jonathan Franzen, to maintain a sense of humor about all this, or does this make you want to stay home on the night of your next book launch?

Mr. FRANZEN: No, I've been laughing through the whole thing and observing the anguish, secondhand. The publisher was very anguished about the disastrous printing error. And, you know, what higher compliment can you get for your eyewear than to have someone grab it from your face?

KELLY: It is very distinctive eyewear. You show up in the press a lot. Describe the glasses in question for us.

Mr. FRANZEN: Well, they're sort of heavy, brown, horn-rimmish sort of things that if I take off, I become entirely invisible, not only to other people but also...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRANZEN: ...more or less, blind as a bat without them, so to myself too.

KELLY: Well, but this is a story with a happy ending.

Mr. FRANZEN: Exactly.

KELLY: Glasses back and onto the next stop on the book tour.

Mr. FRANZEN: Terrific. Yes.

KELLY: All right. Thanks so much.

Mr. FRANZEN: My pleasure.

KELLY: That's the writer Jonathan Franzen. He is on book tour in London for his new novel called "Freedom," and he was talking with us about the theft of his eyeglasses last night.

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