Like many a student of the American school system, I remember my English-class issued copy of J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” — a threadbare, dog-eared volume with names stretching back decades written on the inside cover.
While that novel has fallen somewhat out of favor among the Gen Z cohort, the book is still being taught; I suspect that the copy I held is still in circulation in my old school district. But begining this week, “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Franny and Zooey,” “Nine Stories” and “Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction,” will be available as e-books from Little, Brown, making Salinger among the last giants of American literature to make his debut in digital ink.
The move is notable as Salinger, in addition to having a reputation for extreme privacy, was, by the account of his son, Matt Salinger — the current caretaker of his estate — a luddite.
“Things like e-books and audiobooks are tough, because he clearly didn’t want them,” Matt Salinger told The New York Times. But the younger Salinger ultimately relented to the demand for e-books of his father’s work after a trip to China, where he witnessed young people reading exclusively on devices. He had previously considered the idea around 2014, after a woman in Michigan wrote to say she had a disability that made reading printed books difficult.
“He wouldn’t want people to not be able to read his stuff,” Salinger concluded.
The e-book push is just one part of a massive effort to bring Salinger’s library up to date. That effort will most notably include the eventual publication of previously unseen work, an undertaking that Matt Salinger believes is still five to seven years out. Per his previous statements, this forthcoming corpus will not, as had been speculated, include writing about Salinger’s brief first marriage, but will have more about the urbane and gifted Glass family, the clan of New York-born prodigies who feature in all of Salinger’s books, with the exception of “Catcher.”
Salinger’s letters and photographs, as well as a manuscript of “Catcher in the Rye,” will also be part of an exhibition at the New York Public Library slated for this fall. The exhibit will mark Salinger’s centenary; he was born on January 1, 1919.
Salinger died in 2010 at the age of 91, living well into the digital revolution. But, Matt Salinger told The Times that his father was “horrified” by Facebook and the internet’s ethos of oversharing. Perhaps — forgive me — because of too many phonies.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org