Last year I made an unusual pilgrimage. I flew from Chicago to New York, took the train from Penn Station to Princeton Junction, and walked to a seemingly mundane destination: an inconspicuous reading room in the Firestone Library at Princeton University.
I had come to read the fabled ‘lost’ J. D. Salinger short stories: unpublished works predating his colossal success with The Catcher in the Rye, which were donated to university archives under the stipulation that they could not be published until 50 years after the author’s death. For many Salinger fans (who are typically of a rather obsessive nature) waiting until 2060 is too much of a trial of patience, and the familiarity with which the library staff answered my questions over the phone suggested that I was far from the first intrepid literary traveler to seek out these mysterious materials.
Nonetheless, I felt a degree of nervousness during my journey. Internet rumors had led me to believe that access to the stories was extremely closely guarded and that someone like me, without the legitimate excuse of writing a research paper or book on Salinger, might be turned away. During the plane and train rides I read from Salinger’s Nine Stories as a kind of literary appetizer, and to take my mind off of the looming uncertainties: would I actually be allowed to read the stories, and, more importantly, would they be able to meet my expectations after travelling so far?
Fortunately, the first question was answered quickly upon arrival, as, contrary to the exaggerated internet myths, gaining access to the archives is fairly painless. I had created an online account with the library in advance, and upon arrival I had only to present my driver’s license, and pose for my photograph so my Princeton ID could be issued. They didn’t even ask me to remove my hat.
I was told to deposit my possessions in a locker before entering the reading room, but no one supervised this. I was surprised: I had been expecting airport style security, and was even a little disappointed at its absence. Who were these people who had been honored with guarding the sacred Salinger texts and weren’t even going to body search me for a spy camera?
I logged onto a computer, where I requested the specific materials I wanted, and was then escorted to the reading room: a group space with about seven work desks. I was asked to sit at the front (since I would be using the Salinger materials, which are not allowed to be photographed, copied, or quoted from in any way) under the watchful eye of a library supervisor.
Shortly after sitting down I was brought a few folders with photocopies of Salinger’s typewritten manuscripts. If I needed anything else (except for paper, writing implements, electronic equipment of any kind, food or drink) I was assured I only had to ask.
Check back to see what Christian discovered about the famous short stories of J.D. Salinger.