Thursday, July 2, 2009

This just in: Holden Caufield to remain 16 for the foreseeable future, in the U.S. at least…

July 2, 2009
Posted by Noah

Yesterday, July 1, was a victory for novelist and notorious recluse J.D. Salinger when a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that 60 Years Later: Coming Through The Rye, an “update” of the character of Holden Caufield some six decades later as an old man, cannot be published or distributed in the U.S.

The writer of the book, a Swede with the pen name John David California, is understandably taken aback, but – as the New York Times reports – the judge makes a pretty clear case. The book, says the judge, is not a “critical parody” of Catcher, but rather, simply a copyright infringement. No soup for you!

I can’t really provide you with a look at the now, uh… is banned the right word? Banned? Do we ban books still in this country?... Um… Blocked! The now blocked book because I’m not sure if it’s legal. I can, though give a link to a very beautiful first edition hardcover of the original Catcher in the Rye, sold here at Heritage last October for the reasonable sum of just more than $4,000.

The thing is, California’s book has already been published outside the United States, most notably in England – where I’m sure there aren’t any copies left on the bookshelves today. Does the ruling mean you can’t buy the book overseas and bring it back to America? Can you order it from a foreign book dealer and have them ship it? Is there a charge if you’re busted with it? These are all questions best answered by someone with a hint of a clue. For now, though, you just have me.

I’m not one of those writers who slavishly bow at the feet of Catcher In The Rye, though it is without doubt one of the greatest American novels ever written. Salinger’s prose is mellifluous and his ability to convey Holden’s melancholy and joy at watching his beloved little sister ride the Carousel in Central Park is heartbreaking; it’s a seminal moment in modern fiction and makes me a little lightheaded just thinking about it, like the first few sips of a really good scotch.

It would be easy to wax poetic about Salinger and his book for a good 500 words, but it’s been done. I understand Mr. California’s consternation, especially if he thought he was writing something completely original, even though it was obviously about characters created by another person, and a judge just took away what would have surely been a mint in readers and promotional appearances.

Facts is facts, though, and no one in their right mind would think someone like Salinger – who has gone to great lengths in the almost 60 years since Catcher’s publication to protect both his work and his privacy – would simply let this go with just a summary thumbs up or thumbs down.

In fact, if you take a few moments to read an interview California did with The U.K. Guardian earlier this year, it’s pretty clear that his intention was never critical parody. It’s also clear that he rather sanguinely hopes to get a positive response from Salinger and assumes there’s a chance the author could also be upset by it. Um… No and yes, respectively, Mr. California.

"Maybe he will get upset, but I'm hoping he will be pleased," said California in the interview, May 14, 2009. "I'm not trying to lure him out of hiding – maybe he wants his privacy [but] it would be fun for me to hear what he thinks about this, and if he's pleased with the way I've portrayed Holden Caulfield and his future."

The writer, Alison Flood, rather presciently then ends with this: “Perhaps California shouldn't hold his breath for a fairytale ending.”

It’s safe to say that Mr. California has his answer from both Salinger and The United States. As for that fairytale ending? I wouldn’t say he didn’t get one, I’d say it just happens to be a Grimm’s fairytale ending. If you’ve ever read them then you know how so many of them end, and it’s rarely pretty.

-Noah Fleisher

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