If J.D. Salinger had it his way, we would all probably be dead by the time we got to read his unpublished works. However, someone leaked scans of a paperback entitled Three Stories, including the Catcher in the Rye precursor, “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” on eBay on Wednesday. You can view the PDF here.
In fact, current U.S. copyright law is bolstered by a former biographer’s clash with Salinger over access to the author’s unpublished letters. In the 1980s, Ian Hamilton excerpted from a slew of Salinger letters that had been donated to the archives of Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Texas at Austin. The letters were quoted extensively in a draft that went out to reviewers and that was planned for publication by Random House. When Salinger’s agent, Dorothy Olding, passed along an uncorrected proof to the author in late 1986, he formally registered his copyright in the letters and told his lawyer to object to the publication of the book until all contents from the unpublished letters had been removed.
Recommended viewing: Tobias Wolff tried to convince Stephen Colbert that The Catcher in the Rye is J.D. Salinger’s best book. “Do we need to be reinforcing our kids’ bad behavior as teenagers with the idea they could be a character in a great novel? Dad, I wasn’t disobeying you, I was exploring modes of alienation,” Colbert joked.
I sometimes wonder how the great writers of the past would handle the Twitter predicament. Would they ignore it or engage and go down the rabbit hole? Who are the really unlikely tweeters from literary history? Would Henry James, whose baroque sentences could never have been slimmed down into a hundred and forty characters, have disdained Twitter?