HUMANITIES: Passage A is adapted from the article "Dear Jerry: My adventures answering J. D. Salinger's mail" by Joanna Smith Rakoff (©2010 by Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co LLC). Passage B is adapted from the article "Betraying Salinger" by Roger Lathbury (©2010 by New York Magazine Holdings LLC).
Passage A by Joanna Smith Rakoff
I knew, I suppose, that Salinger was a recluse, but
I didn't understand the extent of his removal from soci-
ety, in general, and the realms of literature and publish-
ing, specifically. Nor did I understand-naive as this5
sounds-the cultlike devotion of his fans.
At Harold Ober Associates, a literary agency, we
were Salinger's gatekeepers-charged with protecting
his life and work. We had to believe that Salinger's pri-
vacy was the most important thing in the world, to be10
protected at all costs.
During my first months on the job, Salinger
remained a comfortably abstract concept. Then, in June,
he called, anxious to speak to Phyllis Westberg, the
company's president. My stomach lurched a little when15
I realized that it was Salinger, for real, on the other end
of the phone.
It turned out something momentous was afoot in
Salingerland: Eight years earlier, a small publisher in
Alexandria, Virginia, had written to him, asking20
whether they might put out a book consisting solely of
Salinger's novella Hapworth 16, 1924, which had
appeared in The New Yorker magazine in 1965. To the
shock of Phyllis, Salinger had, after years of thought,
decided that this "fellow in Virginia" could publish25
Hapworth. Suddenly, he was calling all the time, anx-
ious about the details of this new deal, which seemed
like it might mark a tentative re-entry into the world
he'd abandoned 30 years earlier. Ober, just as suddenly,
seemed charged with a frenetic energy. Phyllis bustled30
around the office and had long conversations with
Salinger, going over the details of the new book, from
the cloth of the binding to the font to the paper stock.
She asked him about the publisher, a retired professor,
whom Salinger seemed to like very much, to Phyllis'35
surprise. It was not often, I supposed, that Salinger took
a shine to someone new. In a way, I realized, the
Virginia publisher was simply one of the fans whose
letters I fielded one who had managed to break through
the wall of Ober's protectorate and prove to Salinger40
that, yes, they really were kindred spirits.
The Hapworth book never materialized. The pub-
lisher gave an interview about Salinger to a local maga-
zine, and Salinger decided his new friend was a phony
Passage B by Roger Lathbury45
It was 1988, and I had written to J. D. Salinger
with a proposal: I wanted my tiny Virginia publishing
house, Orchises Press, to publish his novella Hapworth
16, 1924. And Salinger himself had improbably written
in reply, saying that he would consider it. I was50
ecstatic, even if I doubted that he'd proceed. And then,
Eight years went by. In May of 1996, I received a
letter from Phyllis Westberg saying that Mr. Salinger
would soon write to me.55
Why had he said yes? I think he chose me because
I didn't chase him. I had left him alone for eight years;
I wasn't pushy in the commercial way he found
Two weeks later a full-page letter arrived, and it60
took my breath away. Chatty, personal, it expressed
Salinger's high pleasure in finding a way to put out
Well into discussions about the deal, I unwittingly
made the first move that would unravel the whole thing.65
I applied for Library of Congress Cataloging in Publi-
It sounds innocent. CIP data are the information
printed on the copyright page. The filings are public
information, but I didn't imagine that anyone would70
notice one among thousands.
Then I made another, bigger mistake. What I know
now, but did not then, was that CIP listings are not only
public but also appear on Amazon.com. Someone spot-
ted Hapworth there, and his sister was a reporter for a75
local paper in Arlington. She telephoned.
It seems clear now how everything happened. She
asked me basic questions. Foolishly-if reasonably-I
answered most of them. I thought I could control
myself, but my ego came into play. Anyway, what harm80
could it do? This was a tiny paper.
Then someone at The Washington Post saw it and
called. I refused to speak at first, then answered a few
After the story appeared in the Post, my phone85
nearly exploded. Newspapers, magazines, television
stations,book distributors, strangers, foreign publish-
ers, movie people. South Africa, Catalonia, Australia.
The only one who didn't call me was Salinger.
I couldn't proceed without him, because we still had90
too many details unsettled.
I yearned to write to Salinger, but I knew that it
would do no good. He must have been furious with me,
for betraying him by leaking news to the press, or even
confirming it. I could no longer be trusted. I had proven95
myself part of the crass, opportunistic world that
Salinger's heroes disdain.