Beyond the Bubble | Dec. 8
The University is continuing to investigate the leak of “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” reclusive author J.D. Salinger’s famous unpublished precursor to “The Catcher in the Rye” stored in the Manuscripts Division of Firestone Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department. The story, along with two other unpublished Salinger stories, was posted anonymously on the file-sharing site What.cd on Nov. 27.
The 18-page typescript was probably transcribed longhand by a visitor to Firestone’s Rare Books reading room or else photocopied prior to 1987, when the library forbade photocopying of Salinger’s documents. After the stories were copied and reposted on Reddit the same day, BuzzFeed broke the news of the leak, and it was subsequently picked up by numerous news outlets.
Salinger’s estate is controlled by his widow and his son, Matthew Salinger ’82, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the leaked publication. A member of the family has been in contact with a library administrator in the wake of the leak, University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua confirmed, though he declined to offer further information.
An anonymous What.cd user uploaded photos of what is said to be an edition of the story believed to have been published without Salinger’s consent in London in 1999. The story, the user claims, was published in a collection titled “Three Stories” along with two stories that the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center purchased in 1968, “Paula” and “Birthday Boy.” No restrictions have ever been placed on copying these two stories, Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss confirmed. The London printing produced just 25 copies.
The little-known story collection was the most requested item on What.cd, where its leaker had a sizable reward waiting. In a request now removed from the site, there was a “bounty” of six terabytes of upload capacity — the largest quantity ever offered on the site — for whomever could provide the story, according to a What.cd user.
The user who uploaded photos of the pages, dtauris, claimed to have purchased the copy from an eBay user who was called seymourstainglass (a tribute name to Seymour Glass, one of Salinger’s recurring characters). eBay showed that the seller used an address in west London.
“The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” was one of three unpublished Salinger stories kept in the Manuscripts division, accessible to the general public. The others, “The Magic Foxhole” and “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans,” are known to Salinger enthusiasts but are not as famous.
While both libraries declined to estimate the number of visitors who have viewed the story, Mbugua said the Firestone Salinger collection receives two or three visitors every week.
Salinger “would be horrified”
Stories scattered at Princeton and other research libraries around the nation are just a small sample of the reclusive author’s famous trove of unpublished work. Salinger claimed to have complete manuscripts of novels that he would never publish, his biographer Kenneth Slawenski explained.
Many outlets and authors have cited rumors that Salinger left instructions to have his work published several years after his death. Both Slawenski and Sarah Graham, a scholar of Salinger’s work at the University of Leicester, said they have never encountered evidence to substantiate these claims. They do not believe Salinger ever wanted to see the three stories held by Princeton published.
“I think Salinger, being the perfectionist that he was, would be horrified that we were reading these versions of these stories,” Slawenski explained. “I think it’s totally unethical.”
Once Salinger had decided to publish his only novel, the world-famous “The Catcher in the Rye,” Slawenski said he must have decided never to publish “Bowling Balls.” He lifted entire sections of “Bowling Balls” and inserted them into “The Catcher in the Rye” without changing a word.
Like “The Catcher in the Rye,” ”Bowling Balls” is about the Caulfield family. It details the death of the older brother of Catcher’s protagonist, Holden. But although the same characters appear in many of Salinger’s stories (including “Peter Pans” and “Foxhole”), the characters don’t match up completely in all their incarnations, Graham explained.
The other two stories show a very different side of Salinger than his fans commonly know, Graham explained. “Although Salinger is known for his comedy, a lot of his early stories are very, very bleak.”
“Paula” is an incomplete draft of what Graham called “a very odd, rather nasty story.” Its heroine desperately wants to have a baby but cannot get pregnant. She declares herself pregnant and hides away from her husband in a room of their home, where she claims to have had a baby.
“Then it transpires that she’s actually acting out the role of a baby herself,” Graham explained.
“Birthday Boy” features an alcoholic character named Ray who also appeared in Salinger’s story “The Inverted Forest,” published in 1947. It appears in a complete draft, though Slawenski noted that it didn’t seem to be completely “refined,” as if Salinger had not finished editing it.
Salinger may have withheld these stories from publication believing they were not up to par with his published work, Graham said. “Salinger was a very astute critic of his own work, and he was a harsh critic. The work that he didn’t want reprinted — there was usually good reason for it.”
To catch a leaker
It appears the Salinger estate has already taken action to remove the stories from the Internet. What.cd took them down the same day, threatening to disable the account of any user who tried to re-upload them, the The Guardian reported. Graham noted that just a few days after the leak, the stories had already become very difficult to find online.
The estate may have a very difficult time determining the leaker’s identity, according to Edward Felten, director of the University’s Center for Information Technology Policy and an expert on Internet copyright enforcement.
“If the site doesn’t ask for identities and doesn’t log information about who accessed it, then I assume the site doesn’t know who it was,” Felten said. “I assume a site like this doesn’t ask for identities.”
He said the Salinger estate may hire a computer forensics firm to investigate the leaker’s identity.
“That course of action would be unlikely to succeed unless the uploader of the document made some serious mistake,” Felten explained. “If they covered their tracks well, then forensics is not going to be successful.”
Another possibility would be to examine any metadata in the uploaded photos that may identify the user’s camera. But this might only be useful for confirming a suspicion about who the leaker may be, he said.
Behind the prohibition on copying
The stories came to the University in 1971 through the hands of Story magazine. Its owner-editor, Whit Burnett, taught Salinger in a creative writing course at Columbia University and mentored him throughout his career.
Burnett purchased a typescript of “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” in 1944, though it was never published in the magazine. When Story went out of business, Burnett donated the magazine’s complete archives, which included several of Salinger’s letters and the three unpublished stories, to the University’s rare book collection.
Several news outlets have reported that Salinger himself donated the documents with specific instructions that they not be copied, but this is not the case, Skemer and Slawenski confirmed. Salinger may not have even been aware of the donation.
“There’s absolutely no indication that Salinger was aware that the stories were at Princeton,” Slawenski explained, suggesting that he probably would have asked to have the typescripts back had he known. Slawenski recounted how the author requested two other early stories back when Burnett mentioned them to him in a 1964 letter.
“Salinger said, ‘I had forgotten all about those stories. Do me a favor: Send them back to me,’ ” Slawenski explained. “Had [Burnett] mentioned the additional stories — the ‘Bowling Balls’ story being one of them — the chances are good that Salinger would have asked for [those as well].”
While Firestone initially had no rules against photocopying documents from the Salinger archive, doing so was prohibited in 1987 after the first time the documents made headlines in a much-publicized copyright dispute.
Literary critic Ian Hamilton visited the University’s collection while conducting research for an unauthorized biography of Salinger. His manuscript reportedly quoted extensively from unpublished letters by Salinger held in Firestone.
Salinger discovered this when he got hold of the biography’s uncorrected proofs in May 1986. He formally registered his copyright in the letters and demanded that all contents from them be removed from the book, The New York Times reported. Even after Hamilton revised the manuscript to replace many, but not all, of his quotations from the letters with paraphrase, Salinger did not accept these changes as sufficient and took legal action to stop its publication.
The suit set a landmark precedent in copyright law, Skemer explained in a September interview with The Daily Princetonian. It ended when the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals barred Random House from publishing the book. The suit set a precedent against the use of unpublished material, holding that a biographer may copy facts from an unpublished letter, but not the writer’s means of expression.
Following this case, the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections forbade photoduplication of any of Salinger’s work. Since then, any person wishing to view Salinger’s documents must register and show identification, then consult them under staff supervision in the rare books reading room, where they are permitted to take notes.
“You go into the reading room, and no one pats you down. And you can go in with a cell phone or camera and very quickly take photographs of these manuscripts,” Slawenski said, noting that the library seemed to have strengthened its security in recent years, as the stories became more popular. When Slawenski visited the Firestone archive in 2004, he was permitted to hold the original typescript. When he visited in 2011, he was given a photocopy of it.
Now that the story has been leaked to the public, it remains to be seen whether Firestone will change the photocopy restriction. This has not been discussed, Mbugua said. Legally speaking, the decision would rest solely with the library. But library officials would consult with the Salinger family before making any such decision, Mbugua said.
“Perhaps they might encourage the estate to consider releasing or allowing the stories to be released properly, if they see that they have a good reception,” Graham said, speculating. “I still feel that the most important things to focus on are the work that Salinger wanted to be known for.”
“Given that there are individuals who have an interest in this, there would be consultation if there ever were a change,” Mbugua said, speaking on behalf of the Rare Books Division.
Enniss indicated that the Ransom Center would not be changing its access policy for the leaked stories.
The only copy?
While Princeton’s version of “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” is the only known copy, a later one may exist, Slawenski noted. Salinger submitted a version of it to Harper’s Bazaar in 1949, which he later withdrew from their consideration. Whether the manuscript was returned to Salinger or kept in Harper’s archives is unknown.
A representative from Harper’s Bazaar said that she does not believe the magazine has a copy of the story. Wherever it is, it would most likely not be the same story now posted online.
“I doubt highly that within those five years he did not change that story,” Slawenski explained, since Salinger was a perfectionist who continually edited his drafts.
Slawenski, who has visited the Princeton archive himself, confirmed that the story available online is the same as the copy in Firestone. He added that he also checked with The New Yorker archives, as the magazine had an agreement with Salinger that required the author to offer his work to it before any other publication. The magazine had told him it has no copy of it, and this means that the story was likely rejected, he said.
A “misguided fan’s” attempt to “jump the gun”
Rumors have circulated since September that “Bowling Balls” and other previously unseen work by the author would soon be published.
“In the atmosphere, especially this year, with all of the talk about unpublished Salinger in the news, it’s inevitable that someone who attempts to jump the gun and get a little personal glory for themselves,” Slawenski said, speculating. He said the leak was likely the work of a “misguided fan.”
Filmmaker Shane Salerno claimed in his documentary “Salinger” and its companion book released earlier this year that the story, along with much more of Salinger’s unpublished work, would be appearing in print shortly. Salerno has said that Salinger himself gave instructions to have his work published between 2015 and 2020 and that the five upcoming volumes of work would include all three of the stories held in the University library, The New York Times reported.
“I’m not convinced he knows what he’s talking about,” University manuscript curator Don Skemer said of Salerno.
Graham and Slawenski both said they had seen no evidence to substantiate Salerno’s claim. A publicity representative for HarperCollins assigned to Salerno’s book did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Salinger’s son declined to comment on Salerno’s claim. Skemer noted that Matthew Salinger visited the documents himself a few months after his father’s death in 2010.
For other authors, a cause for concern?
The leak may cause concern among other authors who have donated their unpublished work to the University. Filmmaker Woody Allen, who has been donating his manuscripts and unpublished work to Firestone since 1980, has done so with the explicit provision that photocopying be prohibited.
Allen’s agents requested this provision to avoid seeing Allen’s unpublished work leaked to the public, Skemer said. Mbugua said that no other authors, including Allen, had been in touch with the library regarding the leak or their documents’ security. Representatives of Allen were unavailable to comment on the leak.
Harold Ober Associates, the literary agency that represented Salinger during his lifetime, declined to comment for this story.