My daughter likes J.D. Salinger. She’s read all his books, wrote her college application essay about one of his short stories, and made a movie based on another of his stories for her filmmaking class. A while ago she told me that, for an 18th birthday present, she would like “all of Salinger’s uncollected stories.”
It turns out that Salinger wrote 22 short stories — mostly in the 1940s — that appeared in magazines but were never anthologized. They are listed and summarized on Dead Caulfields, a terrific web site devoted to Salinger’s work.
So off I set on a Salinger/scavenger hunt.
I started with the U.C. Berkeley library catalogue and with WorldCat, the online catalogue that tells you (not entirely accurately) which libraries own a given book or periodical. I’d assumed that the immense Berkeley library system would have everything I needed, but it quickly became clear that this would not be a one-stop shop. Instead:
Stop # 1 – Online archives. The New Yorker makes its archives — every page of every issue, back to 1925 — available to subscribers for free. That was a quick and painless way to print out two Salinger stories, one of those moments where I want to blow big sloppy kisses to the Internet.
But surprisingly, there were no similar online archives for Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan or Mademoiselle, where he had also published. And other magazines like Collier’s, Story, and the Saturday Evening Post went extinct long before anyone had even heard of the Internet.
Stop # 2 — Oakland Public Library. Good news: The modest, cash-strapped Oakland library had back issues of the Saturday Evening Post and Story. Bad news: Some less principled Salinger aficionado had gotten there before me and sliced out the pages containing his stories from some of the volumes. I guess that’s the downside of being a writer with a cult following.
Stop # 3 – U.C. Berkeley’s Doe library. I spent a lot of time in this library when I wrote Where Girls Come First, and I love it. I love the way the floors of stacks are built below ground like some post-apocalyptic civilization. I love the tall movable bookcases that slide along a track as effortlessly as if someone had suspended the principle of friction. I love the way you go looking for one book, and then find a half dozen related volumes alongside it that you didn’t even know about.
Here’s what was new at UC since I did my girls’ school research: Scanning. There are no longer any photocopy machines in the stacks. Instead, there are scanners. You place the book on the machine, it scans the page into digital form, and then either saves it to a memory stuck or spits out copies to a printing center next door in Moffett Library.
But UC didn’t have every magazine I needed. And some of those that it did have were barely legible. So on to….
Stop # 4 — New York Public Library. Although I grew up in Manhattan, I had never set foot in the main branch of the New York Public Library. But I was spending a few days in New York on my way back from Israel, which created an opportunity to continue the Salinger/scavenger hunt.
What a building! The great marble staircases and hallways, the main reading room with its rococo ceiling of carved cherubs and painted clouds, the long, pillared oak counter that could easily have been from a Victorian bank… it all conveys a sense of books as sacred, precious, worthy of being housed in a palace.
Some of the magazines were available on microfiche, and I fumbled around with the spools and the light and the focus dial, thinking how clumsy and outmoded microfiche technology feels now that we have things like scanners and online archives.
Others of the magazines I needed were available in bound volumes. I had to get a NYPL library card to page them from the stacks. I felt like a temporary member of the New York literati!
But even the vaunted NYPL didn’t have everything. I was still missing about four stories. (Might you say that I was short four short stories? Or I was four short stories short?)
Stop # 4 — Return to the Web. Back home, I went online again and found bootleg copies of the text of the missing stories on various individuals’ web sites. (I suppose I could have downloaded bootleg versions of all the stories and skipped the library rigmarole, but there’s something nice about seeing the stories in their original setting, surrounded by period ads for a $2.50 Manhattan restaurant dinner or “Pant-Ease Diapers that are Knitted to Fit Your Baby.”)
I bought a three-ring binder, and clear plastic sheet protectors with holes to fit in the binder. Organized all the stories chronologically and slipped them into the plastic jackets. Printed up a cover. And voila! An eighteenth birthday present.
I hope she appreciates it.
All told, I probably put more than 20 hours into this.
If I were billing at $100 an hour, this would be a $2,000 birthday present.