Previously unpublished J.D. Salinger stories leak online

A scan of a J.D. Salinger work titled 'Three Stories' was posted and sold on eBay UK in September, but now the pages have been uploaded to sites such as Reddit.

Edmund Fountain/Valley News/AP
A sign posted outside the driveway of late author J.D. Salinger in Cornish, N.H., warns visitors that the area is private property.

How’s this for literary irony? The famously reclusive late author J.D. Salinger is attracting more media attention dead than alive after a trio of previously unpublished short stories were leaked online despite the attention-averse Salinger’s strict instructions forbidding publication of such works until decades after his death.

A PDF scan of a Salinger paperback entitled “Three Stories” was posted and sold on eBay UK in September, then, on Nov. 27, scanned and uploaded to other sites such as Reddit, Imgur, and MediaFire. The 41-page work included three short stories: “Birthday Boy,” “Paula,” and “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” which is said to be a precursor to “Catcher in the Rye,” Salinger’s most famous work about teenage angst.

The latter is thought to be an early version of “Catcher” originally written for Harper’s Bazaar magazine and withdrawn before publication. The narrator of “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” is Kenneth Caulfield, the older brother of Holden Caulfield, the narrator of “Catcher in the Rye.”

According to the Guardian, “Three Stories” was not to be published until January 2060, half a century after Salinger’s death in 2010.

The leak has had the literary world in a tizzy as these works were not previously available to the public. And, as many stories have pointed out, Salinger was extremely opposed to the fame and interest publication would attract. He refused to publish anything after his “Catcher” success in 1965, saying he wrote only for himself, not for fame or celebrity. As such, he had issued orders for subsequent works not to be published until decades after his death, fueling conspiracy theories about his unpublished works and “assertions that his greatest masterpieces” were yet to be discovered in a safe or room “full of unpublished treasure,” as the Guardian suggested.

“The appearance of the stories would undoubtedly have enraged Salinger, who died at 91 in 2010 and worked very hard during his lifetime to prevent people from publishing anything he had written (or conceived) that he didn’t want published,” The New York Times said. 

“Salinger was known to fiercely guard his writings and only allowed a relatively small number to be published before his death in 2010 at age 91,” reported CNN.

According to news reports, the leak seemed to have occurred when copies from original Salinger manuscripts held by Princeton University Library and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas were illegally copied – possibly in longhand.

It is Salinger’s very reclusiveness that has fueled strong speculation about his life and works. This summer a new biography and documentary about the author revealed five posthumous works scheduled to be published between 2015 and 2020, according to USA Today.

Oddly, however, despite the intense interest in his rare, unpublished work, Salinger’s “Three Stories” sold for a song: £67.50, or about $107.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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