Author Salinger Sues Copycat Work Author J.D. Salinger has mounted legal efforts to keep a Swedish author's book, seemingly based on Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, from being published. Salinger, 90, is notoriously aloof and his appearance in court papers is remarkable. Hillel Italie of The Associated Press offers his insight.
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Author Salinger Sues Copycat Work

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Author Salinger Sues Copycat Work

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Author Salinger Sues Copycat Work

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The writer J.D. Salinger, who turned 90 this year, is notoriously private. The author of "Catcher in the Rye" has not granted an interview in almost 30 years. He has also vigorously defended his privacy against the efforts of a biographer, a former lover and a daughter, all of whom wrote about him, or tried to.

Salinger's latest litigation is against a book that isn't so much about him as it is about his literary creation.

Reporter Hillel Italie of the Associated Press has written about Salinger's lawsuit against John David California and his publishers.

Hi, welcome to the program.

Mr. HILLEL ITALIE (Reporter, Associated Press): Hello.

SIEGEL: John David California, I gather, is a pen name, and the book in question is called "60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye." What do you know about the book?

Mr. ITALIE: Well, we know from reports about it and from what the author and publisher had said about it. It is some kind of variation of "Catcher in the Rye." It is taking a character called Mr. C, leaving it up to our imagination whether that means Holden Caulfield, and it's 60 years later. He's in his 70s and in some kind of a nursing home in upstate New York. And evidently, just as young Holden would do, he can't take it anymore and he flees. And the book is supposedly, at least in part, about his kind of adventures once he's out and about.

SIEGEL: So it is a writer's updating or sequel to "Catcher in the Rye," to which J.D. Salinger says "Catcher in the Rye," copyrighted in 1951, is his, and this new book exploits it in a way that is contrary to his desires.

Mr. ITALIE: Right. He is saying it's an unauthorized sequel. The court papers put it bluntly. They call it a rip-off.

SIEGEL: Well, you spoke to the writer.

Mr. ITALIE: I did speak to the writer, or at least somebody who identifies himself as the writer, based in Sweden, and he defends the book, thinks the lawsuit is absurd, thinks it's a wonderful book. He calls it like a love story and also kind of a meditation on the relationship between an author and his character.

SIEGEL: Did they dispute the idea that Mr. C is Holden Caulfield and that these are the characters from "Catcher in the Rye"?

Mr. ITALIE: Oh, they sort of play it kind of loose with that. They don't say it is, or they don't say it isn't.

SIEGEL: Clearly, if I want to write a novel from the viewpoint of Moby Dick as opposed to the whalers, or if I want to write a novel from the standpoint of Huck Finn, I can do it. Those characters aren't in copyright. But "Catcher in the Rye," for several more decades, is protected by Salinger's copyright.

Mr. ITALIE: That is correct. So in terms of copyright, he's on very firm ground.

SIEGEL: There is some irony here that John David California, while challenging the notorious privacy, the reclusiveness of J.D. Salinger, does so under a pseudonym and is himself, at some level, private and secluded in all this.

Mr. ITALIE: Oh, you can have all kinds of fun with this. I mean, with Salinger all along, it's - there's been this sort of paradox that he's incredibly famous, that he has a character who he kind of put out into the world who lives on and on while the man himself, you know, essentially disappears from the greater world.

SIEGEL: Yeah, his most recent published works in recent decades are court papers.

Mr. ITALIE: Yes. It seems if you want to hear from him, asking for an interview is not the way. Probably, the way to hear from him is, you know, take one of his characters and try to write a novel about that character. And - then you have a better chance of hearing from him.

SIEGEL: Hillel Italie, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. ITALIE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Hillel Italie is a writer for the Associated Press.

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