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J.D. Salinger’s Work Is Coming to E-Readers for the First Time

The author’s longtime publishing company will release four e-books in August

The author's son plans on releasing a trove of his father's unpublished works at some point during the next decade (Public domain)
smithsonian.com

It’s been a good year for J.D. Salinger fans: In February—the centennial of the writer’s birth—the author’s son, Matt Salinger, announced plans to release his father’s extensive trove of unpublished works over the next decade. Now, Alexandra Alter reports for the New York Times, Matt has decided to make the literary giant’s oeuvre available on e-readers for the first time.

Salinger’s absence from the digital sphere stems largely from his reticence to embrace computers and new technology. As Matt tells Alter, when he tried to explain the concept of Facebook to his father, the elder Salinger was “horrified.”

Famously private, the writer rarely agreed to media interviews, and he refused to support reissued or e-book editions of his four published titles: The Catcher in the Rye, a 1951 coming-of-age story that remains a staple of today’s high school reading lists; Franny and Zooey, a text focused on the two youngest members of the fictional Glass family; a two-part novella called Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter and Seymour: An Introduction; and, finally, Nine Stories, a short story collection.

“I hear his voice really clearly in my head, and there’s no doubt in my mind about 96 percent of the decisions I have to make, because I know what he would have wanted,” Matt tells the Times. “Things like e-books and audiobooks are tough, because he clearly didn’t want them.”

His change of heart centered around the desire to make his father’s work more accessible to all kinds of readers. Citing the fact that some book lovers have disabilities that make it difficult to read physical texts, as well as the increasing popularity of e-readers, he tells the Associated Press, “There were few things my father loved more than the full tactile experience of reading a printed book, but he may have loved his readers more.”

Per the AP, the author’s longtime publishing company, Little, Brown and Company, will release all four of Salinger’s extant works as e-books on Tuesday, August 13.

“This is the last chip to fall in terms of the classic works,” Terry Adams, vice president, digital and paperback publisher of Little, Brown, tells the Times. “All of the other estates of major 20th century writers have made the move to e-books, but Matt has been very cautious.”

The Catcher in the Rye author stopped publishing works in 1965—a full 45 years before his death in January 2010. When Matt confirmed the existence of his father’s extensive unseen writings earlier this year, he announced that they would be published at some point during the next decade.

“[My father] wanted me to pull it together, and because of the scope of the job, he knew it would take a long time,” Matt told the Guardian’s Lidija Haas at the time. “This was somebody who was writing for 50 years without publishing, so that’s a lot of material. ... [But] there’s not a reluctance or a protectiveness: When it’s ready, we’re going to share it.”

Although Matt and the author’s widow, Colleen O’Neil, first started preparing the works for publication in 2011, the AP reports that they may not be ready for years on end. This delay stems partly from the fact that the younger Salinger has yet to find reliable optical-recognition software and is instead undertaking the painstaking process of typing up his father’s handwritten words himself.

For impatient fans, a New York Public Library exhibition featuring letters, photographs and manuscripts from Salinger’s personal archives will arrive far sooner than any of the author’s unpublished writings: Per the Times, the display, set to open in October, will include more than 160 artifacts provided by Matt and O'Neil.

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