29 November 2013

JD Salinger – Short Stories

A few posts back, I made a passing reference to Holden Caulfield, assuming that most readers would know who he was (I didn’t even put in a link to Wikipedia). Caulfield’s creator, JD Salinger, died in 2010 at the age of 91, nearly 60 years after the publication of The Catcher in the Rye. In September a new ‘oral’ biography, Salinger, by David Shields and Shane Salerno was published, to be followed by a film of the same name written and directed by Salerno which will be shown in the US in January.

On 29 November The Times (£) carried a story on page 3 by their arts correspondent, Jack Malvern, Pirate copies of work by J.D. Salinger beat author’s embargo:
Three stories by J. D. Salinger that the author instructed should not be published have apparently been printed illegally in Britain and leaked online. The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls, Paula and Birthday Boy have been among Salinger’s works from the 1940s that were available to read only at two American university libraries, but photographs have emerged that purport to show the stories in an illegally produced book. 
… The book appears to have been sold by a British man based in Brentford, West London. When the images of the book appeared on Reddit, a news and entertainment website, the person who uploaded it claimed to have bought it on eBay. The link provided leads to an auction page created by “Seymourstainglass”, which has a listing for a 47-page book containing “three short stories written by J. D. Salinger never published”. The seller, who gives his address in West London, has sold several copies of the book, fetching up to £67.50.
On the same day, a similar article, JD Salinger's unpublished stories leaked online, by Maev Kennedy appeared in the Guardian. Subsequently John Sutherland on theguardian.com expressed his doubts about the affair, As JD Salinger's works leak online, one smells a rat:
… Salinger ordained that these works should not be published until 50 years after his death. It's an edict of extraordinary egotism – not to say spite. Salinger, one deduces, came to hate his contemporaries: not until every single one of them was dead should there be access to the fruits of his genius. 
That prohibition has been overturned by the sale on eBay, of all places, of a so-called book – or what bibliographers call "a ghost"; a non-book that doesn't actually exist – containing the three stories. The copyright page describes it as number six of 25, printed in London in 1999, but there's none of the formal copyright data that a printed book requires. It also contains the misinformation that all three manuscripts are in Texas, whereas the most interesting is in Princeton. The text is clearly not typeset, but word-processed. 
The sale itself is hugely suspicious. Only 14 bids, with the winner paying a derisory £67.50. Everything points to the conclusion the book was mocked up and the sale rigged to get the contents into the public domain, which the website Reddit has duly done. 
… No one will be disappointed by the three Salinger stories. But they have got into general circulation by an elaborate ruse. Who did it? One doesn't yet know. But it is a certainty that some will be applauding – most notably those who believe the internet has made mortmain [a concept in law … meaning the hand of the dead] historically obsolete.
But this isn’t the first time that Salinger’s wish to control publication of some of his work has been thwarted. Nearly 40 years ago I bought this slim paperback:

On the back is a sticker “£1.60” but the book is devoid of any date or publication details. Though not particularly well printed, the stories seem to be genuine and can be identified on the Dead Caulfields website (thank you, Professor Sutherland). Another website, salinger.org, suggests that The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J.D. Salinger were published in two volumes in 1974 in hardback, but this last descriptor is clearly wrong.

On Abebooks a copy like mine is currently on sale for US$150/£95 (approximately). About the time I bought my book, I paid £52,000 for a terraced house near London. If the price of that house had kept up with the book, the current owner would now be asking over £3 million for it, instead of the £0.5 million they might get. Me, I just wish I’d bought Volume 1 as well!

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