J. D. Salinger Speaks About His Silence
By LACEY FOSBURGH
San Francisco, Nov. 2--Goaded by publication of unauthorized editions of his early, previously uncollected works, the reclusive author J. D. Salinger broke a public silence of more than 20 years last week, issuing a denunciation and revealing he is hard at work on writings that may never be published in his lifetime.
Speaking by telephone from Cornish, N. H., where he makes him home, the 55-year-old author whose most recent published work, "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" and "Seymour, an Introduction," appeared in 1962, said:
"There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It's peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure."
For nearly half an hour after saying he intended to talk "only for a minute," the author, who achieved literary fame and cultish devotion enhanced by his inaccessibility following publication of "The Catcher in the Rye" in 1951, spoke of his work, his obsession with privacy and his uncertain thoughts about publication.
The interview with Mr. Salinger, who was at times warm and charming, at times wary and skittish, is believed to be his first since 1953, when he granted one to a 16-year-old representative of the high school newspaper in Cornish.
What prompted Mr. Salinger to speak now on what he said was a cold, rainy, windswept night in Cornish was what he regards as the latest and most severe of all invasions of his private world: the publication of "The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J. D. Salinger, Vols. 1 and 2."
During the last two months, about 25,000 copies of these books, priced at $3 to $5 for each volume, have been sold--first here in San Francisco, then in New York, Chicago and elsewhere, according to Mr. Salinger, his lawyers and book dealers around the country.
"Some stories, my property, have been stolen," Mr. Salinger said. "Someone's appropriated them. It's an illicit act. It's unfair. Suppose you had a coat you liked and somebody went into your closet and stole it.
That's how I feel."
Mr. Salinger wrote the stories, including two about Holden Caulfield, the pained, sensitive hero of "The Catcher in the Rye," between 1940 and 1948 for magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers and Esquire.
Prefiguring his later writing, they concern themselves with lonely young soldiers and boys who eat egg yolks, girls with "lovely, awkward" smiles and children who never get letters.
'Selling Like Hotcakes'
"They're selling like hotcakes," said one San Francisco book dealer. "Everybody wants one."
While "The Catcher in the Rye" still sells at the rate of 250,000 copies a year, the contents of the unauthorized paperback books have been available heretofore only in the magazine files of large libraries.
"I wrote them a long time ago," Mr. Salinger said of the stories, "and I never had any intention of publishing them. I wanted them to die a perfectly natural death.
"I'm not trying to hide the gaucheries of my youth. I just don't think they're worthy of publishing."
Since last April, copies of "The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J. D. Salinger, Vols. 1 and 2" have reportedly been peddled in person to bookstores at $1.50 each by men who always call themselves John Greenberg and say they come from Berkeley, Calif. Their descriptions have varied from city to city.
One such peddler told Andreas Brown, manager of the Gotham Book Mart in New York City, that he and his associates did not expect to get in trouble for their unauthorized enterprise because, as Mr. Brown related, "they could always negotiate with Salinger's lawyers and promise not to do it any more."
Mr. Brown, who described the young man as "a hippie, intellectual type, a typical Berkeley student," said, "I asked him why they were doing it, and he said he was a fan of Salinger's and thought these stories should be available to the public.
"I asked him what he thought Salinger would feel, and he said, 'We thought if we made the books attractive enough he wouldn't mind.'"
Gotham refused to sell the books and alerted Mr. Salinger to the unauthorized publications.
"It's irritating," said Mr. Salinger, who said he still owns the copyright on the stories. "It's really very irritating. I'm very upset about it."
According to Neil L. Shapiro, one of the author's lawyers here, the publication or sale of the stories without Mr. Salinger's authorization violates Federal copyright laws.
A civil suit in Mr. Salinger's name was filed last month in the Federal District Court here against "John Greenberg" and 17 major local bookstores, including Brentano's, alleging violation of the copyright laws.
The author is seeking a minimum of $250,000 in punitive damages and injunctive relief.
The stories have since been enjoined from all further sales of the unauthorized books, and, according to Mr. Shapiro, they still face possible damage payments ranging from $4,500 to $90,000 for each book sold. Additional legal action, he said, was being planned against bookstores elsewhere.
The mysterious publisher and his associates remain at large.
It's amazing some sort of law and order agency can't do something about this," Mr. Salinger said. "Why, if a dirty old mattress is stolen from your attic, they'll find it. But they're not even looking for this man."
Discussing his opposition to republication of his early works, Mr. Salinger said they were the fruit of a time when he was first beginning to commit himself to being a writer. He spoke of writing feverishly, of being "intent on placing [his works] in magazines."
Suddenly he interrupted himself.
"This doesn't have anything to do with this man Greenberg," he said. "I'm still trying to protect what privacy I have left."
Over the years many newspapers and national magazines have sent their representatives to his farmhouse in Cornish, but the author would turn and walk away if approached on the street and was reported to abandon friends if they discussed him with reporters. There have been articles reporting on his mailbox, his shopping and his reclusive life, but not interviews.
But last week, he responded to a request for an interview transmitted to him earlier in the day, by Dorothy Olding, his New York literary agent.
Did he expect to publish another work soon?
There was a pause.
"I really don't know how soon," he said. There was another pause, and then Mr. Salinger began to talk rapidly about how much he was writing, long hours, every day, and he said he was under contract to no one for another book.
"I don't necessarily intend to publish posthumously," he said, "but I do like to write for myself.
"I pay for this kind of attitude. I'm known as a strange, aloof kind of man. But all I'm doing is trying to protect myself and my work."
"I just want all this to stop. It's intrusive. I've survived a lot of things," he said in what was to be the end of the conversation, "and I'll probably survive this."