Brow Beat

J.D. Salinger’s Books Are Finally Going Digital

A cornflower blossoms in a rye field in Sieversdorf, Germany, in 2014.
Anyway, I keep picturing this cornflower blooming in this big field of rye and all.
Patrick Pleul/AFP/Getty Images

IF YOU REALLY want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is how four of J.D. Salinger’s books are getting digital editions, and what reading them on your lousy iPhone will be like, and how Salinger and his estate opposed digital publication before they changed their minds, and all that New York Times kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, the late J.D. Salinger and his son Matt Salinger would have about two hemorrhages a piece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They’re quite touchy about anything like that, especially the father. They’re nice and all—well, J.D. Salinger is as nice as anyone could be, nine years after his death—but they’re also touchy as hell. Matt’s in Connecticut. He and J.D. Salinger’s widow, Colleen Salinger, run the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust. One of those little legal entities that owns all of an author’s copyrights and controls publication and adaptations and all like that after they die. Matt decides whether and where and when Salinger’s work can be published, now. He didn’t use to. He used to be just a regular actor and film producer. He played Captain America in the 1990 Captain America movie, in case you never heard of him. It was about Captain America. It killed me. Now he’s in Connecticut, Matt, helping run the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s literary trusts. Don’t even mention them to me.

Where I want to start telling is which books are getting digital editions this week. The Catcher in the Rye is this book on Time Magazine’s list of the best English-language novels published since 1923. You probably heard of it. You’ve probably seen the ads, anyway. They advertise in about a thousand libraries, always showing some hotshot actor from the Harry Potter movies holding a copy of the first edition with this big phony smile on his face. Like as if all old Alan Rickman ever did was sit around reading beloved midcentury novels. I never even once saw a copy of The Catcher in the Rye anywhere near a movie set. And underneath the guy with the book, it always says: “READ.” Strictly for the birds. They’re also releasing digital editions of Franny and Zooey; Nine Stories; and Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters and Seymour—An Introduction, which is exciting as hell, if you want to know the truth.

Anyway, old J.D. always said he never wanted his books on computers and stuff like that, and his wishes were supposed to be a very big deal around the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust. But then around 2014 this lady in Michigan wrote Matt Salinger a note saying she couldn’t read printed books on account of she had a disability, and then this year he took a trip to China where he saw everybody reading on phones and iPads and Kindles and like that, and now all of a sudden he’s changed his mind. But he’s not going to release J.D. Salinger’s work as audiobook anytime soon. Matt figures that since nobody hated the idea of other people interpreting his writing as much as old J.D. did, he’d be a phony if he let them stick his father’s books on a record. Besides, records sometimes break if you drop them because you’re plastered or something, and then you end up feeling lousy and depressed.

That’s all I’m going to tell about. I could probably tell you that Salinger’s unpublished works may finally see the light of day in the next five to seven years, and how Matt Salinger is preparing them for publication and all, and where the secure storage facility holding J.D.’s archives is, but I don’t feel like it. I really don’t. That stuff doesn’t interest me too much right now. About all I know is, I sort of miss all the books I told about. Even old Franny and Zooey, for instance. I think I even miss that goddamned “Hapworth 16, 1924.” It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you go broke buying e-books.