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Three unpublished J.D. Salinger stories leaked?

Buzzfeed is reporting that three previously unavailable stories by J.D. Salinger have been leaked online this evening, apparently in PDF and other versions of a small print book.

The collection, titled “Three Stories,” and featuring a plain black cover, includes “Birthday Boy,” “Paula” and “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls.” The latter piece is a precursor, of sorts, to “The Catcher in the Rye,” detailing the death of Holden Caulfield’s brother, named Kenneth in the story, not Allie as he is in the finished book.

I’ve never read “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls”: It’s part of a collection of Salinger material at the Princeton University Library and available only to scholars who are supervised as they read. I have read the other two stories, however, at the University of Texas’ Ransom Center, and the versions of them in “Three Stories” are the real deal.

The Ransom Center is relatively free with its manuscripts; visitors can even have photocopies made, although they are prohibited from circulating the work. It’s more difficult to imagine how a manuscript was copied from the Princeton Library, but in this digital age, I have little doubt that it could be done.

As with much of Salinger’s early work, this is really journeyman stuff, and in the case of “Paula,” not even a polished draft. “It’s hard not to feel a bit guilty when devouring something that he didn’t want the world to see,” writes Buzzfeed’s Summer Anne Burton, “and it’s harder still to imagine a less Salinger-esque way to read these stories than hastily scanned and illegally hosted online.”

I agree, although given Salinger’s notorious reticence, it’s also thrilling to encounter his unknown work. That was part of what drew me to the Ransom Center, where I read the stories in manuscript, rifling through the author’s own typed pages, with notes and edits in the margins written in his hand.

We don’t see that in “Three Stories”; the work has to stand on its own. That it can’t, really, and that we read it anyway gets to the heart of our peculiar fascination with Salinger, which lingers, nearly half a century after he stopped publishing.

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