Exclusive: J.D. Salinger is getting more exposure than he ever wanted right now. Next week, a documentary and an accompanying book are released by Shane Salerno and David Shields. Almost no one has seen the movie. I have the book. It’s an oral history of Salinger, with reminiscences from a lot of people who knew him or interacted with him. One thing popped out of my cursory reading: a recollection from 1962 from the esteemed editor and writer Gordon Lish confirming that Salinger had troves of unpublished work.
Lish wrote to Salinger and a bunch of other writers as director of linguistic studies at Behavioral Research Laboratories in Menlo Park, California. He asked them to write an essay for the Job Corps “Why Work” program.
He recalls: “In February 1962 the telephone operator at the Behavioral Research Lab said she had a Mr, Salinger on the phone for me, and because of the nature of the laboratory I thought that she was talking about Pierre Salinger, the press secretary to President Kennedy. So I was surprised to discover that it was J.D. Salinger. He started by saying “You know who I am and you know I don’t reply to telephone calls and mail, and I’m only doing this because you seem to be hysterical or in some sort of difficulty.”
That struck me as amazing since the telegram had gone out in the fall and here it was winter. But that was the pretext of his phone call– he said I was in some kind of problem. Then he said, “You only want me to participate in this because I’m famous.” And I said, “No no no it’s because you know how to speak to children.” He said, “No, I can’t. I can’t even speak to my own children.”
I said it was easy to speak to children if you open up your heart to them. After this we talked about twenty minutes, chiefly about children. His voice was very deep, Haggard-sounding,m weary-sounding. He didn’t sound at all like I expected Salinger to sound. He didn’t possess any of the adroitness I would have anticipated. Anyway he did tell me he never wrote anything if it was not about the Glasses and the Caulfields, adding that he had shelves and shelves filled with the stuff.
So I said, “Well, gee, that will be fine, Just give me some of that.” Soon the phone call ended, and of course, he didn’t agree to provide me with a piece on why he loved his work.”
PS By strange coincidence, The Guardian ran a piece on Lish today. How nice to see he’s still being appreciated. He was a great friend to me many dozens of years ago when I was a young lad being terrorized at Ballantine Books by truly crazy people. Here’s the link: http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2013/aug/29/gordon-lish-80-raymond-carver