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Betraying Salinger

The sample cover, with type laid out to Salinger's eccentric specifications.  

I had prepared two typographical treatments for the text, and he chose the one I thought he would. We went over small details of bookmaking. (Running heads at the top of the page? No. The fabric headband at the ends of the spine? Plain navy blue. “Can’t go wrong with that!” Salinger said, with an explosive laugh.) The cover would carry just the title and, below it, his name. There would be no dust jacket. I showed him a mock-up of the spine, and when he saw the horizontal type, he said, warmly, “Oh good.”

I confessed that my distribution wasn’t great. He told me, “Nothing would make me happier than not to see my book in the Dartmouth Bookstore.” Distributed but not distributed! Of all the writers I have published, only one has ever asked that his book be kept out of stores.

I had spotted a few inconsistencies within the text, and I brought them up, fearing the wrath of the lion. Yet he said, mildly enough, “No, no. I want it left as it is.” He reminisced about reading The New Yorker page proofs in the car of his editor, William Shawn, while Shawn attended an event at his son’s prep school.

What would be the publication date? This I had ready: “January 1, 1997.” Six months off.

“That’s my birthday.”

“I think I knew that.” In fact, I had chosen it for that reason.

We wrapped up a few details, and bussed our trays. I stopped to stare at the waterfall outside the cafeteria, which flows over a set of stone steps right up against a glass wall. Suddenly, Salinger wheeled around. “What are you looking at? Answer quick, without thinking!”

Taken aback, I stammered, “I like that waterfall.” He seemed mollified. In a moment I understood: Had I paused so he could be secretly photographed? A friend later told me that such pictures can be sold for large sums.

Money, though, was not on my mind, nor on his. There was never talk of an advance, and although he did not want the book aggressively priced, he had told his agent, generously, to let me make some money on it. I worked out that I could sell the book for $15.95.

After refusing my offer of a ride, J. D. Salinger walked energetically across the Mall. I was both relieved and sad to see him go, and wondered if this would be the only time we would meet.

A series of letters followed. They were remarkably open, even garrulous, with notes on family life, social observations, gripes about train travel, little jokes about himself. He mentioned working on Glass-family stories, but told me nothing about what he’d written after Hapworth. I certainly didn’t ask.

Around this time, I unwittingly made the first move that would unravel the whole deal. I applied for Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication data.

It sounds innocent. It is certainly boring. CIP data are the information printed on the copyright page. The filings are public information, but I didn’t imagine that anyone would notice one among thousands. It would be like reading a list of register codes at the grocery: apples 30, bananas 45, oranges 61.

As we worked on the book, the publication date slipped from January to February. An agreement was drawn up, saying that Hapworth had to appear by June 1, or the deal would expire. There was also an unusual provision: All copies were to be sold at the retail price, whether to individuals or distributors or bookstores. Salinger would get his wish of limited distribution. What store would sell a book on which it could make nothing?

One thing Salinger did tell me was that he’d grown unhappy about seeing his name on the front cover, and we removed it. This was going to be a most austere book. We also learned that the type on the spine was too small to be stamped cleanly into the fabric. Salinger offered a new design, with the letters strung out diagonally. It was awful: ugly, difficult to read, ostentatiously weird. When I said so to Phyllis Westberg, she was succinct: “Bite the bullet, Roger!”

I bit. I ordered two sample cases—the covers of the book, its shell. In November, I sent one to Cornish, and kept the other. We would have Hapworth in stores in just a few weeks.

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, even for books not yet published. Someone spotted Hapworth there, and his sister was a reporter for a local paper in Arlington, the Washington Business Journal. One day, after I arrived home from my job teaching at George Mason University, she telephoned.