(The legendary and enigmatic J.D. Salinger, author of the cult Catcher in the Rye is publishing a book after 34 years. An Indian caught the low-key event on the Internet and broke the news)
"Some comment in advance, as plain and bare as I can make it: My name, first, is Buddy Glass, and for a great many years of my life--very possibly all forty-six--I have felt myself installed, elaborately wired, and occasionally, plugged in, for the purpose of shedding some light on the short, reticulate life and times of my late, eldest brother, Seymour Glass, who died, committed suicide, opted to discontinue living, back in 1948, when he was thirty-one."Thus begins Hapworth 16, 1924, Jerome David Salinger's last published story that appeared in The New Yorker on 19 June, 1965, and which is about to become the mysterious and reclusive author's first book in 34 years.On October 18, 1996, while idly browsing through amazon.com, an on-line bookstore on the Internet, the following words suddenly flashed before my eyes: Hapworth 16, 1924, by J. D. Salinger, Hardcover, Price information not available. Published by Orchises Press. Publication date: January 1997. ISBN: 0914061658. My first reaction was--to put it mildly--disbelief. This surely was just a prank?
I had of course read the story, and the other 21 "uncollected" stories (see box "The Hermit In His Cave"), like any serious Salinger fan, but the fact that it had been 31 years since he had originally published it (Ah, the 'Aha!' feeling once again as I type this: after all, Seymour was 31 years old when he offed himself! This would give you an idea about the adaptationist theories doing the rounds, thanks to Salinger's silence, I, uh, indulging in Seymour-speech, "regret with my entire body to say"), and suddenly one fine day, actually night, to see it listed, oh-so-innocuously somewhere unexpected, with no fanfare, no media blitz, quite took "my personal breath away!" to quote the precocious seven-year old Seymour in Hapworth again.
The folks at Bananafish had to be told. Bananafish is a mailing list on the Net where I regularly hang about along with Salingerians from all over the planet. The initial responses were: "OH...MY...GOD!!!" "Is this book authorized? I can't believe that JDS would publish this story." "Could the whole thing be an elaborate hoax?" Wondered Will Hochman, who teaches Salinger at a US university: "My guess is that JDS...wouldn't put Hapworth 16, l924 in a book--has anyone contacted the alleged publisher?" On October 22, Stephen Foskett, the Bananafish administrator, reported: "The Library of Congress catalogue now lists Hapworth 16, 1994 as being published in 1997. I've ordered MY copy!" The news was more or less confirmed.
By November 5, Chris Kubica had called Roger Lathbury of Orchises Press: "He confirmed that it'd be published in Jan 1997, that it'd be $15.99 plus shipping when ordered from him (seems a bit steep for a 50-page story, eh?). However, when queried about the 'how did you get permission to do this' jazz, he said his lips were sealed. He was nice enough, but quiet. Now I have to ask myself, am I enough of a fan to dish out $16 for a mediocre story (see box "Hapworth 16, 1997") I've already read. 'Prolly."
Obviously, JDS had chosen Orchises Press because of its very obscurity. It has till now been publishing reprints of Tolstoy and Auden, along with much original poetry; most sales are through mail order.
Then, as we learned later, the November 15 issue of something called The Washington Business Journal, carried an item on Hapworth. No one noticed. Except for, apparently, Washington Post reporter David Streitfield, who broke the story in the mass media on January 12. It was instantly picked up on both sides of the Atlantic, some papers according it front page status.
According to Streitfield's January 17 report, "(Lathbury) had wanted to keep it as secret as possible for as long as possible. His plans were somewhat foiled when a Salinger fan saw a listing for the forthcoming book in the online bookstore amazon.com. This fellow told his sister, Karen Lundegaard, a reporter at the Washington Business Journal, who wrote about it."
The western press has still not established who approached whom. There are to be--but naturally--no review copies ("They'll buy it--or better yet, not review it," Lathbury told Streitfield), no promotion (Lathbury, sounding uncannily like JDS: "My philosophy is that books are pushed at people for wrong reasons. There's a marketing mentality that has little to do with the literary experience. While I want people to know Hapworth is available, I don't want to force it on anyone."), no disclosure of print run or advance orders received ("This is a book meant for readers, not for collectors. Part of the reason for not revealing a press run is to discourage investing. I want people to read the story."). Indeed, rumour has it Salinger insisted his name should appear vertically, to diminish its impact.
So what is certain? amazon.com had listed January as the scheduled date, but it now seems to be March. As for me, I'll believe it only when--more correctly, if--it happens. After all, JDS has changed his mind about publishers a number of times, starting with Catcher. In any case, one can always persuade the nearest American Centre to get a copy of the relevant New Yorker and read the story. But the real issue is something else. In Hapworth, Buddy Glass, Salinger's "alter-ego and collaborator", appears in first person briefly to introduce, and to "type up" Seymour's 20,000-word-or-so long epistle, "an exact copy...word for word, comma for comma." It would be interesting to see if Salinger, circa 1997, has, as he put it once, been "fussing with it ('Polishing' is another dandy word that comes to mind)."
- Seymour, age 23, letter to Buddy, quoted in Seymour An Introduction, the last book JDS published.
"Good night. I'm feeling very much overexcited now and a little dramatic, but I think I'd give almost anything on earth to see you writing a something, an anything, a story, a poem, a tree, that was really and truly after your own heart...Love,S."
(Sundeep Dougal professes to run a Delhi-based ad (hoc) agency called Holden Caulfield.
And then there is what Time called the "coy fraudulence" of the "throwaway self-interview" published only on the first edition jacket-flap of Franny & Zooey, which ends with "My wife has asked me to add, however, in a single explosion of candour, that I live in Westport with my dog." This had led Time to thunder: "The dark facts are that he has not lived in Westport or had a dog for years." Time was right on the Westport part but Salinger must have been amused when weeks later Life carried a photograph of, what it claimed was the Salinger family dog. So here's a man who, as JDS' absolutely unauthorised biographer Ian Hamilton sums up, left "America's two wealthiest and most resouceful newsmagazines unable to agree on the matter of whether or not he owned a dog."
The most celebrated case of course is Hamilton's attempted book, J.D. Salinger: A Writing Life, that could not be published after Salinger took him to court. Hamilton is perhaps the only man to have pierced Salinger's veil of secrecy to any sizeable extent and his later book In Search of J.D. Salinger offers a fascinating glimpse of the enigma that is Salinger, despite heavy excisions. Hamilton may have lost the case for quoting from the author's personal letters and "uncollected stories"--which appeared in various magazines, but which JDS refused to be ever reprinted--but ironically it brought Salinger more in the public eye than he probably would have been had the book been allowed to be published. For he did have to depose, which marked Salinger's first public appearance in over 30 years. The irony is that the personal letters Hamilton had quoted from had to be copyrighted individually and duplicates of them may now be consulted at the copyright office in Washington DC for a small fee. Not only that, in the publicity given to the case by the media, the original letters were freely quoted from, far more freely, it appears, than Hamilton himself had ever intended.
The rapid spread of the Internet has only added to Salinger's perceived need for legal activism. Perhaps his fans have never had it so good, for technology makes it possible to exchange even book-length material with ease. Till as recently as 1996, almost half of the 22 uncollected stories were put up by an enthusiast on his web page for anyone to download, till Salinger's lawyers moved in. In the early '70s, an unauthorised paperbound Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J.D. Salinger appeared in two volumes. Salinger got it suppressed.
One of JDS' latest assaults has been on the Holden Server on the Web, where visitors were randomly rewarded with one of 169 quotes from Catcher. Site developer Luke Seemann was promptly warned by Salinger's agents that the site was a copyright violation. Seemann resisted: while reprinting 169 quotes from one book would obviously violate copyright, if each visitor only saw one, wouldn't that fall in the realm of "fair use"?But Seemann ultimately decided not to fight this battle, and killed the site. "No matter who won a legal battle, J.D. Salinger would lose," he wrote to Tribe magazine. "He would become the hermit who came out of his cave to sue the pants off a poor, defenseless college kid. I didn't want that. His was an effort to protect his obscurity; mine was merely a gesture toward someone who changed my life."