NOT FOR US.

In case you were under the delusion that the world of literary publishing was infinitely better back in the day, here‘s a mortifying reminiscence by the legendary editor Robert Giroux, who died Friday. Giroux has promised J.D. Salinger he (that is to say his employer at the time, Harcourt, Brace) would publish Salinger’s first novel:

A year later a messenger came to the office with a package from Dorothy Olding, Salinger’s agent. … There on the top page I read the title: “The Catcher in the Rye.” …
I gave [my boss at Harcourt, Eugene Reynal] the book to read. He didn’t like it, didn’t understand it. He asked me, “Is this kid in the book supposed to be crazy?” …“Gene,” I said, “I’ve shaken hands with this author. I agreed to publish this book.”
“Yes,” he said, “but, Bob, you’ve got to remember, we have a textbook department.” And I said, “What’s that got to do with it?” He said, “This is a book about a kid going to prep school.” So he sent it to the textbook people, who read it and said, “It’s not for us.” …
I remember apologizing to Salinger. He said, “Ah, it’s O.K. I expect things like that. It happens.” Well, I never thought it would happen to me.

The book was published by Little, Brown in 1951 and went on to have a certain success.

Comments

  1. John Emerson says:

    I have a family photo from about 1952-3 with TCITR on a shelf in the background. By the time I was reading adult books six or eight years later, it was nowhere to be found. Then around 1962 I bought and read it myself, under the impression that it was the book to read for teenagers. But I was wrong; it was already passe, and had been overtaken by Lord of the Flies, Lord of the Rings, and Steppenwolf, none of which I’ve ever read since I went to college a couple of years later.
    Conceptually I dislike the two Lord books, which I lump with Chesterton, CS Lewis, and others in the British Christian Original SIn biz. Even Anthony Burgess, I think.

  2. John Emerson says:

    I have a family photo from about 1952-3 with TCITR on a shelf in the background. By the time I was reading adult books six or eight years later, it was nowhere to be found. Then around 1962 I bought and read it myself, under the impression that it was the book to read for teenagers. But I was wrong; it was already passe, and had been overtaken by Lord of the Flies, Lord of the Rings, and Steppenwolf, none of which I’ve ever read since I went to college a couple of years later.
    Conceptually I dislike the two Lord books, which I lump with Chesterton, CS Lewis, and others in the British Christian Original SIn biz. Even Anthony Burgess, I think.

  3. Chesterton, CS Lewis, and others in the British Christian Original SIn biz
    I’d add Kipling and call the whole bunch “British Supremacy biz”.

  4. Well, ok, maybe except for CS Lewis. In fact, he mocked the sort of patriotism displayed by Kipling and his sort. I have a soft spot for CS Lewis and I think he gets a bad rap just because he’s on the top of the assigned reading list at all the evangelical schools. That of course means that everybody cites him and yet hardly any one has read him. If they did, they would recoil in revulsion. Kinda like the Bible, I suspect…

  5. Leave my poor Kipling alone! Sure he was an imperialist, but so was pretty much everybody then, and he LOVED India. By that I mean the subcontinent, not the political entity. For that, and because reading Kim and The Jungle Book is like hearing again my own Anglo-Indian father’s bedtime stories, I will stand up for the Rajist stooge. Also let’s not forget that Kipling’s politics became more acceptable to 21st-century sensitivities later in his life. That said, I’m still surprised whenever nationalist Indian friends also admit to liking his work.

  6. John Emerson says:

    I like Kipling better than the others too. There’s something about British literary Christians that gives me the creeps. I recognize TS Eliot’s merits, but for me his Christianity detracts considerably.

  7. John Emerson says:

    I like Kipling better than the others too. There’s something about British literary Christians that gives me the creeps. I recognize TS Eliot’s merits, but for me his Christianity detracts considerably.

  8. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    The link is that all these British writers (taking Eliot as Brit for the sake of the argument) were to some extent creepy (except for Kipling, who was just fine: his reputation for jingoism is undeserved and he only took God & the British Empire at contemporary face value). I don’t find Chesterton particularly creepy, and so I leave him out too. But Eliot, CS Lewis and Burgess are all creepy, as were Orwell and Philip Larkin. Funny people to lump together, and does the creepyness matter to the work? It does with Burgess, Orwell and Lewis, but not with Eliot or Larkin.
    Why would a spellchecker accept everything but ‘Kipling’ and ‘Larkin’? Perhaps it knows something.

  9. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    On reflection, I take back the above post. I know very little about those writers, just what I’ve read in reviews and so on, and I wouldn’t want some stranger saying I’m creepy after I’m dead and can’t hit back. Even Eliot was just a high Anglican, nothing extremely creepy about that, really.

  10. John Emerson says:

    Chesterton’s piece on the Jewish Problem, recently posted at DeLong, moves him into the creepy category. I don’t think of Orwell as creepy, just odd in a good way. He was unusual in that he tried to be both ethical and politically relevant, which in his day (especially) was really impossible, so he ended up slipping back and forth a lot. The political + cynical and ethical + irrelevant options were easier and more consistent, but in the long term disastrously flawed.
    I’ve always felt that the Anglican / Anglo-Catholic intellectuals believed in God about as much as I do, but felt that there was something good about pretending to believe.

  11. John Emerson says:

    Chesterton’s piece on the Jewish Problem, recently posted at DeLong, moves him into the creepy category. I don’t think of Orwell as creepy, just odd in a good way. He was unusual in that he tried to be both ethical and politically relevant, which in his day (especially) was really impossible, so he ended up slipping back and forth a lot. The political + cynical and ethical + irrelevant options were easier and more consistent, but in the long term disastrously flawed.
    I’ve always felt that the Anglican / Anglo-Catholic intellectuals believed in God about as much as I do, but felt that there was something good about pretending to believe.

  12. I’ve always felt that the Anglican / Anglo-Catholic intellectuals believed in God about as much as I do, but felt that there was something good about pretending to believe.
    You know, that would actually make sense and explain while Chesterton is so attractive to some. The most ardent defenders of Chesterton and CS Lewis I know are young atheists of certain political flavor. Their argumentation usually boils down to “We need the masses to believe because, like Chesterton said, if people stop believing in God, they will believe in anything and we can’t have that.” Nevermind that Chesterton never said that, the hypocrisy of it all is much more interesting. Especially to a good Catholic boy like me.
    CS Lewis was probably the real deal, though.
    Stuart,
    quite right, my apologies. I didn’t mean to write off Kipling completely, I could never do that to a fellow cigar lover: “There’s peace in a Larranaga, there’s calm in a Henry Clay”.

  13. Chesterton’s piece on the Jewish Problem, recently posted at DeLong
    Did I miss something or do you mean Gopnik’s piece cited by DeLong?

  14. John Emerson says:

    He also cited Chesterton himself in the Gopnik piece, from “The New Jerusalem”, which is available on line.
    Link

  15. John Emerson says:

    He also cited Chesterton himself in the Gopnik piece, from “The New Jerusalem”, which is available on line.
    Link

  16. If you like Gopnik’s work, the Chesterton piece is worth tracking down in print or looking out for at the dentist’s. Some samples:

    Chesterton is an easy writer to love — a brilliant sentence maker, a humorist, a journalist of endless appetite and invention. His aphorisms alone are worth the price of admission, better than any but Wilde’s.

    But he is a difficult writer to defend. Those of us who are used to pressing his writing on friends have the hard job of protecting him from his detractors, who think he was a nasty anti-Semite and medievalizing reactionary, and the still harder one of protecting him from his adherents, who pretend that he was not.

    Chesterton writing about the Church is like someone who has just made his first trip to the post office. Look, it delivers letters for the tiny price of a stamp! … The fact that the post office attracts time-servers, or has produced an occasional massacre, is only proof of the mysterious enthusiasm that the post office alone provides! Glorifying the postman beyond what the postman can bear is what you do only if you’re new to mail.

    I guess Eliot is cut some slack because his transparently anti-Semitic poems like “Burbank with a Baedeker, Bleistein with a Cigar” really aren’t his best, so nobody reads them in secondary school.
    In conversations with fans, it’s surprising how many find Chesterton’s apologetics timeless, when he’s so obviously Edwardian; and Lewis’s philosophy convincing, even though it hardly needs Beversluis’s big guns to unravel.
    That said, they all have their strong moments as writers.
    young atheists of certain political flavor
    Do they get the Chesterton angle from Žižek?

  17. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Bulbul, this is an esoteric British thing, but Chesterton was a Roman Catholic, not an Anglo Catholic. By Anglo Catholic, I think John means high church Anglicans of the establishment, men like Eliot. I’m fairly sure that British Roman Catholics like Chesterton or the later converts like Evelyn Waugh and Elizabeth Longford did indeed believe in God.
    OK, that’s a bit creepy about Chesterton’s anti-semitic writing. He is quite clueless, which is surprising considering he went to school with some pretty bright Jews, including (just) Leonard Woolf. It’s hard to sort shades of pre-war anti-semitism without ending up sounding like an apologist, but I’m going to blame it all on his Catholicism. I would tell you why Orwell’s creepy, but I have to have dinner now. There are some creepy commenters at that deLong blog.

  18. I look forward to hearing about Orwell’s creepiness when you have the time. (I hope it’s not the “informer” thing, which has been vastly exaggerated.)

  19. Richard Hershberger says:

    “In case you were under the delusion that the world of literary publishing was infinitely better back in the day,”
    I’ve noticed that a lot of the complaints about the current state of publishing run along the lines of there are so many books being published that it is hard to get noticed. While undoubtedly difficult for individual writers, it seems a stretch to conclude from this that the industry is in dire straits.

  20. But a lot of other complaints are about how mercenary and indifferent publishing is: books are barely edited and nobody cares about quality. I’m sure it has gotten worse, but it was never idyllic.

  21. John Emerson says:

    There are some creepy commenters at that deLong blog.
    Did you call, Kron?

  22. John Emerson says:

    There are some creepy commenters at that deLong blog.
    Did you call, Kron?

  23. MMcM,
    Do they get the Chesterton angle from Žižek?
    I doubt it, Žižek is very much on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Hayek is their all time favorite author.
    AJP,
    Bulbul, this is an esoteric British thing, but Chesterton was a Roman Catholic, not an Anglo Catholic.
    I’m aware of that.

  24. John,
    I see, thanks for the link. I read Gopnik’s piece and was hoping for something similar by deLong.

  25. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Bulbul,I’m aware of that.
    Sorry, then.
    JJE, Did you call, Kron?
    No, the creepy comment I read was someone who said you were a Stalinist who hangs around with other boys at shopping malls and beats up old ladies who don’t agree with your leftist views. I didn’t like the tone, but the link was interesting, I didn’t know about the Adam Gopnik piece. I get the NewYorker very late, sent on from NY by my mother.
    Language, I hope it’s not the “informer” thing
    I was going to tell you about how in his last years Orwell bought slum property in Glasgow from which he is supposed to have evicted young families and where he was known as Eric the Nail, but if you’re going to be so picky, I’ll just quote Jamessal quoting Louis Menand’s essay on Orwell, talking about Bernard Crick’s bio:
    “Crick has doubts that the event Orwell recounted in remarkably fine detail in “A Hanging”—he describes the condemned man stepping aside to avoid a puddle of water on his way to the scaffold—ever happened, and Meyers notes that, during his years as a tramp, Orwell would take time off to rest and write in the homes of family and friends, something he does not mention in “Down and Out in Paris and London,” where the narrator is sometimes on the verge of death by starvation. Both Crick and Meyers suspect that “Shooting an Elephant” has fabricated elements. And everything that Orwell wrote was inflected by his predilection for the worm’s-eye view. When biographers asked Orwell’s contemporaries what it was really like at St. Cyprian’s, or in Burma, or working at the bookshop, the usual answer was “It was bad, but it wasn’t that bad.”"
    There is something about Orwell’s style that, if he wasn’t actually being literal with the truth, then I find it creepy to read to read those pieces. Great guy otherwise, though.

  26. To me that just sounds like a writer writing, but we all have our individual tolerances for truth-stretching.

  27. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Bulbul, if people stop believing in God, they will believe in anything and we can’t have that.” Nevermind that Chesterton never said that, the hypocrisy of it all is much more interesting
    I thought the argument was that if people stopped believing in God then they would have no justification for a moral code, and that it was last made by Nietzsche and first made by…a Greek. I don’t find it a hypocritical observation, myself.

  28. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    To me that just sounds like a writer writing
    My point is that Orwell made a big effort to not just sound like a writer writing, so it’s creepy if it wasn’t true. On the other hand, I just read in Wiki his favorite writer was Somerset Maugham. That sobered me up.
    (Now for the first of many comments telling me what a great writer Somerset Maugham was, but it’s my bedtime so I don’t care.)

  29. John Emerson says:

    Kron, those old ladies were mouthy and had it coming to them.

  30. John Emerson says:

    Kron, those old ladies were mouthy and had it coming to them.

  31. David Marjanović says:

    Their argumentation usually boils down to “We need the masses to believe because, like Chesterton said, if people stop believing in God, they will believe in anything and we can’t have that.”

    Which is of course bullshit. The more religious someone is, the more likely they are to believe in everything else, too. I think there’s data on that somewhere, but if not, I can supply copious anecdotal evidence.
    (bulbul, you might like to try cyber-hanging out with different atheists in the future. Reaganomists are not good for anyone’s sanity.)

    CS Lewis was probably the real deal, though.

    Yes. Nobody could have made up what he considered logic. Urgh. <facepalm>

  32. we all have our individual tolerances for truth-stretching
    Maybe I’m stickler, but even the bit about avoiding the puddle is too much for me. If you want to invent telling details to convey your point of view — what you think about the world — then write fiction. Period. And I’m surprised anyone’s willing to tolerate the omissions in “Down and Out”: the whole point of the book is to describe what it’s like, physically and psychologically, to be tramp; yet there’s a world of difference between actually being a tramp, not knowing if you’ll ever pull yourself out of the gutter, and just moonlighting as one for research.

  33. Well, remember that Thoreau neglected to mention in his account of his self-sufficient life on Walden Pond that he strolled home for milk and cookies every day. (Well, maybe not milk and cookies specifically, but you get the idea.) Also, it’s not an established fact that Orwell made up the puddles, it’s something Bernard Crick has doubts about. Which he’s certainly entitled to, but I’m not sure it’s enough to hang Orwell for.

  34. I’m not sure it’s enough to hang Orwell for.
    I think maybe I’m too young to insist on hanging anybody. Shucks.

  35. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    OK, but for Bernard Crick to have doubts — that’s about as credible a source, as cautious about artistic license, as I had previously thought Orwell to be.

  36. Well, yeah, but I’d still rather read Orwell than Crick, no offense to the latter. “Time that is intolerant/ Of the brave and innocent/ And indifferent in a week/ To a beautiful physique/ Worships language and forgives/ Everyone by whom it lives.”

  37. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    …Pardons cowardice, conceit,
    Lays its honours at their feet.

  38. “Time that is intolerant/ Of the brave and innocent/ And indifferent in a week/ To a beautiful physique/ Worships language and forgives/ Everyone by whom it lives.”
    You know, the best part about having had an unconventional education is that after reading those lines thinking, “Now that doesn’t sound like Orwell,” you get to google them and, for the first time in your life, read the whole* of “In Memory of W. B. Yeats.” Gorgeous.
    (*I say “the whole” because, as these things always go, I’d recently come across part of the poem in Terry Eagleton’s “How to Read Poem”:http://books.google.com/books?id=d33Gk_re7BEC&pg=PA8&lpg=PA8&dq=%22gravely+tongue-in-cheek'%22&source=web&ots=DLoeWxJFj8&sig=rSdlT2thkZYQVQ6j7yK8o7adfEE&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA7,M1 Nothing genius, but there is a nice paragraph of exegesis, and he uses the phrase “gravely tongue-in-cheek” — which gets only one other google hit.)

  39. Thank you, also.

  40. “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” is one of my favorite poems ever.

  41. Did I miss something? I thought it was by Auden.

  42. It is. Hat just quoted it in defense of Orwell, using its sentiment to illustrate his (Hat’s) attitude. I, however, didn’t really know the poem, and assumed at first that Hat was quoting Orwell to show that he (Orwell) really had some talent. A google later, I knew better and you were confused.

  43. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    It’s very good. We should have known it was Auden, but I’m another who only found it out through googling. My point in adding the next two lines was that I’m not sure which bit of the poem fits Orwell best nowadays.

  44. Should we mention that when Jack London wrote The People of the Abyss about the suffering in Jack the Ripper’s London that he went home to a comfortable bed each night? Or that the Irish Catholics in GK Chesterton’s fiction are always, without innocent of any crimes? Or that English actors are always the villains in Hollywood movies because their country is the least likely to get offended and boycott movies? (Or that I’ve made up between one and three of the last statements?) In other words, what is the point of most of the preceeding threads and will someone please define “creepy” in rela/tion to “yukky”, “gross” and “eeow”

  45. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    ‘in rela/tion’
    This is a weird one, Glyn, because ‘/’ is nowhere near ‘l’ on the keyboard. I find it slightly creepy, but certainly not yucky or gross.

  46. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I suppose I mean nowhere near a or t, but who knows what I mean. It’s creepy, but not yucky.

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