J.D. Salinger went all the way to the Supreme Court to block the publication of an unauthorized biography about him, but on Thursday, one of the few copies of the book will be available for auction.
Only about a hundred proof copies of "J.D. Salinger: A Writing Life" (which includes the incorrect spelling of author Ian Hamilton's name as Ian Hamiton) of the 1986 book are estimated to exist, according to Swann Auction Galleries specialist John Larson, who said the auction house procured its copy via a private American collector. "We weighed the pros and cons of it, and we both went into it with our eyes open, noting that it's a first time for this," Larson said.
The book has previously been offered for sale, but considering the legal battle behind it — Salinger objected to Hamilton's quoting of his unpublished letters — it's still a gray area how the book is even available at all. "I can sum that up in one word — and the word is murky," Larson said. "I don't know what's going to happen. We haven't heard any objections to it yet. But who knows? Sometimes it'll happen after the sale that someone objects. There's no real demarcation line on this stuff."
Another unusual wrinkle to this particular tome is that most of Salinger's correspondence that he objected to seeing in the book is already housed at university libraries (Harvard, Princeton, and University of Texas) and online. In fact, Salinger first learned that his letters had been donated to university libraries through the footnote citations in the galley proofs of "A Writing Life" (a later version of the book had to subtract the quotations and add paraphrases instead). The version available for auction, the first corrected proof, assembles all of these quotes for the reader without the paraphrases (or the trips to the library). "You're finding all the quotes together in one book and contextualized in the way that Hamilton sees his life, the public life of J.D. Salinger," Larson said.