Small publisher recalls book deal with J.D. Salinger that went sour

Ian Shapira of The Washington Post has a great article about how Roger Lathbury, owner of a tiny book publishing company, almost published a 24,000 word J.D. Salinger story.

In 1988 Lathbury wrote a letter to Salinger expressing interest in publishing "Hapworth 16, 1924," which had run in The New Yorker in 1965, and which was Salinger's last published work." To Lathbury's great surprise, Salinger wrote back, saying "I'll think about it."

Eight years later Salinger called Lathbury and the two began a correspondence, which led to a face-to-face meeting at the National Gallery of Art's cafeteria.

Salinger "recommended the Parmesan soup, or a soup with Parmesan flavoring. I said, 'I am a vegetarian' and he said, 'I am largely a vegetarian.' I didn't know what that meant -- sort of like saying, 'I am a little bit pregnant.' "

That lunch would be their last face-to-face session but the start of a friendship built through long, revealing letters. Over lunch, Salinger asked whether Lathbury had read any books by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science movement. Salinger was a fan; Lathbury, not so much. They discussed the hot novel of that year, "Primary Colors," by journalist Joe Klein posing as "Anonymous," based on Bill Clinton's presidential campaign. "He sort of said, politely, 'That's not my kind of book,' " Lathbury said.

Finally, they got down to business. Salinger insisted on having no dust jacket, only a bare cover with cloth of great durability -- buckram. They talked pica lengths, fonts and space between lines. They were going to do a press run somewhere in the low thousands. No advertising whatsoever. But for how much? Lathbury remembers that Salinger did not ask for an advance and that any money to be made would come from sales.

The story has a sad ending.

Publisher Roger Lathbury recalls book deal with J.D. Salinger that went sour