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J.D. Salinger enters the digital age with e-books of 'Catcher in the Rye,' others

Legendary author J.D. Salinger, left, was most famous for his first book (and only novel so far), “The Catcher in the Rye,” which will get published as an e-book this week. [Associated Press]
Published Aug. 12

This is the centennial year of J.D. Salinger's birth, and he just might be spinning in his grave.

Readers will rejoice, though. Salinger's publisher, Little, Brown and Co., has announced that starting Wednesday all four books by one of the most influential authors of the 20th century will be available as e-books for the first time.

That's not all. According to Salinger's son, Matt Salinger, in the next few years new work by his father will be published — the first since the novella Hapworth 16, 1924 was printed in the New Yorker in 1965.

Salinger was most famous for his first book (and only novel so far), The Catcher in the Rye. Published in 1951 and never out of print, the first-person tale of angsty teenager Holden Caulfield has sold more than 65 million copies and become one of the most beloved and reviled works of American fiction, a perpetual presence on both school reading lists and the American Library Association's list of most challenged books. Salinger's distinctive style has influenced authors from John Updike to John Green, and Catcher's fans include Bill Gates and the late former President George H.W. Bush.

Salinger became a public figure by deliberately staying out of the public eye. At the height of his fame in the 1950s, he retreated to his home in a small town in New Hampshire and, although he reportedly continued to write, he didn't publish after 1965 and largely avoided interviews and public appearances until his death in 2010 at age 91. He resolutely refused to allow his books to be published in digital or audio forms; he also would not license them for movies, stage or television.

Matt Salinger and J.D. Salinger's widow, Colleen, are the trustees of the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust. Until now, they've abided by the author's wishes.

But, according to a news release from Little, Brown, Matt Salinger said, "As it became clear to us that increasing numbers of readers today read only e-books, and after I was taken severely (if also humorously) to task by a reader with a disability in Ypsilanti, Michigan, who can't read except on an electronic device, we decided it was time."

In addition to Catcher, the e-book release includes Nine Stories (1953), Franny and Zooey (1961) and Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenter and Seymour: An Introduction (1963).

Little, Brown said that, to make the books accessible to more readers, it will offer a 1,000-book giveaway of digital copies to North American libraries through a sweepstakes at OverDrive, as well as special prices for libraries through the end of 2019.

In an interview in the New York Times on Aug. 11, Matt Salinger revealed that the long-lived rumors are true: His father did produce new work he intended for publication, and books will be released in the next five to seven years.

The younger Salinger said he has been working through the manuscripts since 2012. The only content he confirmed is that some of the writing is about the Glass family, the subjects of Franny and Zooey and other J.D. Salinger books.

"He would want people to come to it with no preconceptions," Matt Salinger told the New York Times. "I wanted people to know that, yes, he did keep writing, there's a lot of material, and yes, it will be published."

Matt Salinger has also worked with the New York Public Library on an upcoming first exhibition from his father's personal archives. It will include the typescript of Catcher with the author's notes, photos, letters and additional items.

Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

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