Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Friday, June 26, 2009
J.D. Salinger strikes back The author's legal action to stop a book about Holden Caulfield seems a little too extreme. Meghan Daum in the LA Times, June 25, 2009
J.D. Salinger, as you may have read over the last few weeks, is inveighing against "phonies" yet again. Fifty-eight years since the publication of "The Catcher in the Rye" -- indeed, 44 years since he published anything -- the famously reclusive and litigious author, now 90, recovering from hip surgery and totally deaf, has taken legal action to stop the U.S. publication of a Swedish novel called "Sixty Years Later: Coming Through Rye." Subtitled "An Unauthorized Fictional Examination of the Relationship Between J. D. Salinger and His Most Famous Character," the novel depicts a 76-year-old Holden Caulfield, who meets his author and revisits various locations and characters featured in the original book.Salinger's suit calls the book "a rip-off pure and simple."
Lawyers representing "Sixty Years Later" claim that the book engages in criticism and parody and therefore constitutes "fair use" of copyrighted material. A judge in New York, who agreed to temporarily block the book's publication (it's already been released in Sweden and Britain) is expected to make a final ruling in the next few days.On certain levels, there's something heartening about Salinger's famous unwillingness to allow any derivations of his work -- he has turned down film adaptation offers from Steven Spielberg, Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, to name just a few, and has blocked a BBC stage production of "The Catcher in the Rye."
By standing up for the integrity of his own material, Salinger also stands up for the notion that books and stories are fully integrated objects; that they are not a means to an end but the end itself. And in a culture in which books are increasingly thought of as merely source material, the idea of books as whole and finite entities is, sadly, a little bit radical.
But, as I am hardly the first to point out, Salinger's protectiveness of his work isn't just stand-up, it veers into the paranoid, mercurial and even delusional. What we've heard about Salinger in the last four decades has mostly to do with his eccentricities and cantankerousness. He's rumored to have experimented with many forms of spirituality and dietary philosophies (among them Zen Buddhism, Dianetics and -- use your imagination -- "urine therapy") as well as making efforts to block virtually any form of derivation or dissemination of his work.
It's not just movie adaptations he eschews. In 1986, Salinger stopped the author of an unauthorized biography from including in his book letters that Salinger had sent to friends and colleagues. A decade later, Salinger put the brakes on the release of his last published work, a novella that had appeared in the New Yorker but had not yet appeared in book form. Apparently put off by the inevitable tide of publicity, he asked his publisher, a small press in Virginia, to withdraw the book.
But the "Sixty Years Later" suit, while not surprising, seems somehow sadder than the previous legal actions. There's a sense that Salinger might not have a grasp on exactly what he's objecting to and why. And I suspect a lot of people are asking the same question that I am: "Doesn't the great J.D. Salinger have bigger fish to fry?"