Snitcher in the Rye: Salinger’s Daughter to Publish a Memoir

Its arrival has been as secretive as that time Holden hid in Phoebe’s closet.

In the fall of 2000, Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc., plans to publish a memoir by J.D. Salinger’s daughter, Margaret (Peggy) Salinger. The book, entitled Dream-Catcher , is about her childhood and as such will incorporate her relationship with her reclusive father, author of The Catcher in the Rye . Pocket Books president Judith Curr plonked down more than $250,000 in late May for what she told The Observer was “a very important book.”

Apparently Riverhead Books didn’t think so. Riverhead, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc., had previously signed Ms. Salinger, who is 43, to write the book, for an amount which publishing sources put at $250,000. It became known to some at Riverhead as “the secret book.” Riverhead co-editorial director Cindy Spiegel, who edited Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human , was assigned the task of seeing the book into print. But when Ms. Salinger submitted her manuscript, Riverhead deemed it unacceptable. The editors also discovered that Ms. Salinger, perhaps showing some of her father’s stubbornness, was resistant to editing. Riverhead asked for the advance to be returned.

Being a high-minded, literary sort of place-Riverhead authors include Mr. Bloom, Nick Hornby ( About a Boy ) and the Dalai Lama ( The Art of Happiness )-the editors may have been expecting from Mr. Salinger’s daughter something that read more like Susan Cheever rather than Christina Crawford. Neither Riverhead publisher Susan Petersen nor Ms. Spiegel could be reached for comment. Robert Gottlieb, Ms. Salinger’s agent at William Morris, declined comment.

Meanwhile, Pocket Books is excited about the book, which was Ms. Curr’s first acquisition upon arriving from Random House Inc.’s Ballantine Publishing Group in mid-April. “She’s a fabulous writer,” said Ms. Curr. “She has a unique style. She has a particular turn of phrase. I would call her lyrical, and I would call her insightful. And I would call her mature.” Senior editor Nancy Miller will be editing the book, which is due in-house in November, about the time the ducks leave the pond in Central Park.

“It’s my great good fortune,” said Ms. Curr, of Riverhead’s decision not to publish Ms. Salinger’s book.

Joyce Maynard, whose 1998 memoir, At Home in the World , disgorged details of her youthful, nine-month dalliance with Mr. Salinger, said she was happy for Ms. Salinger.

“I think it’s brave and fine,” said Ms. Maynard. “When I knew Peggy she was 17, and I was 19. I spent one of the worst nights of my life trying not to wake Peggy Salinger. The last time I saw her was the day Jerry Salinger sent me out of his life.”

Ms. Maynard was recently in the news, in a less than flattering light, for putting 14 of Mr. Salinger’s letters up for sale at Sotheby’s, where they were auctioned on June 22 to California philanthropist Peter Norton for $156,500. Mr. Norton issued a statement in which he said, “I share the widely expressed opinion that the work should be bought by someone sympathetic to Mr. Salinger’s desire for privacy. I plan to return the letters to Mr. Salinger-or do whatever else Mr. Salinger lets me know he wants done with them.”

The day before the auction, Ms. Maynard said she was looking forward to Ms. Salinger’s book, but not all of its subject matter.

“I’m so weary of the story of J.D. Salinger,” said Ms. Maynard. “I’m looking forward to not thinking about him ever again. But I’ll read Peggy’s book. I think it was a very complicated relationship. I’m sure it’s an honest tale.”

“A crowning craziness” was how Ralph Ellison described to his close friend and intellectual intimate, Albert Murray, the experience of publishing his 1952 novel Invisible Man . One wonders how he would have perceived the hoopla surrounding his second “novel,” Juneteenth (published this month by Random House), which was culled from more than 1,500 pages of Ellison’s prose, whittled down to a single narrative and titled Juneteenth by Ellison’s literary executor, John Callahan.

The Observer called Mr. Murray, now 83, at his home on West 132nd Street. He described himself as being less mobile than he used to be-“I haven’t walked in years”-that is, he explained, without a cane or walker.

“It’s natural for Random House to explore what’s there,” said Mr. Murray of the new Ellison book. “They had an investment in it. There was a contract for 40 years. Random House invested a lot of money in the 60’s, way back when money was different.” Ellison’s editor was the late Joe Fox, who had inherited Ellison from onetime editor in chief Albert Erskine, who also worked with William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren.

The very fact of Juneteenth ‘s publication as a novel doesn’t much bother Mr. Murray, who said he and Ellison “agreed on basic views and basic assumptions” when it came to life and literature. “I’m not angry about it, because it’s unfinished and says so,” he said. “I couldn’t take a position on Callahan’s decision because I haven’t been through the various manuscripts.” Of whether the publication of the comparatively inferior Juneteenth could mar Ellison’s reputation, Mr. Murray said, ” Israel Potter did not diminish Moby-Dick . The response from critics and journalists comes out of the context of celebrity status achieved by Invisible Man . It puts a burden of a special type of ego on Ellison, which they don’t know him well enough to do.”

Mr. Murray reminisced a bit about Invisible Man ‘s popularity. “It hit the best seller list immediately,” he said, “and was on for eight weeks. But it took several years for it to achieve the status of one of the outstanding novels of the time. Ralph obviously didn’t think Invisible Man was the best he could do. And he proceeded from that point of view.”

What did Mr. Murray think of Juneteenth ? “I was expecting something else,” he said. “I was looking for the story of McIntyre [a journalist in a 1965 short story by Ellison, titled “Juneteenth,” which appeared in the Quarterly Review of Literature ] trying to come to terms with American identity. What it doesn’t reflect is the ambitious literary undertaking that I though Ralph had in mind. The book is just part of it. But it says so.”

Random House is considering publishing Mr. Callahan’s “scholar’s edition,” as opposed to the current version, which Mr. Callahan calls a “reader’s edition.” And more Ellisoniana is on its way. When Vintage releases the paperback version of Juneteenth , planned for June 2000, Random House will publish a volume tentatively titled Work in Progress: Letters About Literary Craft and American Identity , made up of letters between Mr. Murray and Ellison from the years 1949 to 1960. The volume will also include black and white photographs.

Joe Fox and Mr. Callahan approached Mr. Murray about doing the book of the letters after hearing him read from some of them at a memorial service held for Ellison at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1994. Mr. Murray handed in the 269-page manuscript a year ago.

“I saw it would be another little Ellison book,” said Mr. Murray. “We made arrangements with [agent Andrew] Wylie and Random House and came to very generous terms on that book.” William Morris’ Owen Laster, the agent for the Ellison estate, brokered the deal.

Ellison’s actual letters to Mr. Murray have since been sold to the Houghton Library at Harvard University, a sale arranged by the Upper East Side bookseller Glenn Horowitz. Mr. Murray added that he has “loaned” his own personally inscribed copy of Invisible Man to Mr. Horowitz on the chance it could be sold. The catalogue price is $30,000. Mr. Horowitz is also offering five of Mr. Murray’s own books, at prices around $2,500 each.

Why is Mr. Murray selling the precious book? “If I can make these decisions now, I don’t have to put somebody in Callahan’s position,” he said. “People are interested in my papers. Why wait?”

And what would Ellison think of the high price? “He might think, ‘All right. You never know how things are going to turn out,'” said Mr. Murray. “Any time great compliments would come, he would have a little bit of modesty.”

After six months of wrangling with Dmitri Nabokov, Vladimir Nabokov’s son, Foxrock Books publisher Barney Rosset won the battle to publish an English translation of Lo’s Diary , the retelling of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita from the nymphet’s point of view by Italian author Pia Pera. Is the author pleased? Not exactly.

Under the agreement, Mr. Nabokov will write a preface and Ms. Pera will write an afterword, but there’s a twist: Mr. Nabokov will be allowed to read her contribution before he writes his own, while she may not read his. Ms. Pera told The Observer she was never told of the two-step procedure. “I’m shocked by the fact of not having been informed,” she said. “Shocked and surprised. And speechless.”

“I heard that the idea of the American publisher was to have Mr. Nabokov and myself write the text,” said Ms. Pera. “I would not see his text, he would not see mine. If what I hear is true, that Mr. Nabokov is writing his text after mine, that’s weird. Just weird. In duels people walk 10 steps away from each other, then they turn, face each other, and aim. This is not a duel. This is different from what I was led to believe. The code of honor doesn’t apply. Had I known the real situation, I might have written something different.” Ms. Pera added that now she may be “touching up” her afterword.

Mr. Rosset said, “I didn’t invent that condition, Nabokov did. He said take it or leave it. And I took it.” Asked whether he had told Ms. Pera of the condition, Mr. Rosset replied, “As far as I’m concerned, I most certainly did. And if I didn’t, I’m sorry. I don’t apologize. Everybody had to give. The point was to get the book published.”

Peter L. Skolnik, Mr. Nabokov’s lawyer, said it wasn’t Mr. Nabokov’s responsibility to inform Ms. Pera of the terms of the deal.

“All communications with Ms. Pera were conducted through Barney Rosset,” he said. “I have never spoken or communicated with Ms. Pera in my life, nor has Dmitri. I had no sense of what Barney was and was not saying to Pera.”

The book is scheduled for an October 1999 publication, one year after Mr. Nabokov filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in Federal District Court in Manhattan against Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which subsequently canceled the book. Foxrock will have to pay Farrar the $9,000 for rights to Ann Goldstein’s translation of Ms. Pera’s novel.

What does Farrar president Roger Straus think about the fact that Ms. Pera’s book will finally make it into print in the English language market? “I’m only surprised that Dmitri Nabokov wants this published,” said Mr. Straus.

“He let it be published to make it clear that he never had any interest is suppressing the book,” said Mr. Skolnik. “He was only going to make sure that people respected the copyrights of his father’s work and if they wanted to use those copyrights, they obtain the necessary permissions. He also wanted to make it clear that he was not now saying Yes for the money. He is pleased that what seems to be an intelligent and responsible solution has been found.”

Mr. Nabokov is donating the estate’s entire $25,000 advance-put up by Foxrock’s distributor, Publishers Group West-plus his 5 percent royalties to the writer’s group PEN toward a literary prize.

Ms. Pera had some final words for the publisher who fought to publish her book. “I wish all the best to Mr. Rosset and that he can buy himself a beautiful car,” she said.

When German media giant Bertelsmann A.G. agreed last October to pay Barnes & Noble Inc. $200 million for a 50 percent stake in Barnesandnoble.com-the Internet bookselling venture-the idea was that Barnes & Noble was getting some cash and Bertelsmann was getting a partner. Nine months later, after the Web site conducted its initial public offering, a peek at the money that executives and directors at Barnesandnoble.com stand to pocket shows that in this equal partnership, one partner may be more equal than the other.

Consider this: If Barnesandnoble.com stock continues to trade around the I.P.O. price of $18 (which is where it closed on June 18, four weeks after the I.P.O.), the chairman of Barnesandnoble.com’s board, Leonard Riggio, who is also the chief executive of Barnes & Noble, will be able to turn his 5.1 million stock options into something like $71 million. The vice chairman of the board, Thomas Middelhoff, who is also the chief executive of Bertelsmann, has 40,000 options to buy the stock at $18, which means they are worth exactly zero.

Executives at Barnesandnoble.com who joined the Web start-up after working for Mr. Riggio in the Barnes & Noble corporate family stand to become multimillionaires when they are able to exercise their stock options (generally six months from the I.P.O.). To wit, Mr. Riggio’s brother Stephen Riggio, who serves on the boards of both Barnes & Noble and Barnesandnoble.com, has options worth $20 million; Carl Rosendorf, a senior vice president at Barnesandnoble.com who worked for six years at Barnes & Noble College Bookstores Inc., could pocket $12.5 million; William Duffy, a Barnesandnoble.com vice president who spent four years in the Barnes & Noble organization, can bring home $8.8 million.

On the Bertelsmann side, Markus Wilhelm and Klaus Eierhoff, both executives from the Bertelsmann corporate empire as well as board members of Barnesandnoble.com, each have 40,000 options-just like Dr. Middelhoff. But unless the Barnesandnoble.com stock takes off, that won’t buy a remaindered Thomas Harris novel.

Marie Toulantis, the chief financial officer at Barnesandnoble.com, said that the disparity of riches is not an indication of Bertelsmann folks being shut out from the cash trough, but rather that those who could get rich are more involved in the company’s daily operations. “Bertelsmann is invested and they are great partners, but they are not involved in the company. They’re not running the business on a day-to-day basis,” Ms. Toulantis said.

She added, “I just want to make it clear, the Barnes & Noble people have worked very hard for years to build this company and any options they received were provided to them in recognition of that.”

Jonathan Bulkeley, the chief executive of Barnesandnoble.com who was recruited this January by Bertelsmann’s Dr. Middelhoff because of his work on Bertelsmann’s joint venture with America Online Inc. in Britain, does stand to pull down a fortune; his 4.1 million options could net him $58 million.

But as Ms. Toulantis pointed out about Mr. Bulkeley (her boss), “He was hired by Mr. Riggio and he reports to Mr. Riggio.”

-Gabriel Snyder

You can reach the Publishing column at emanus@observer.com.