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Friday, July 25, 2008

Cover Lover - The Cover in the Rye

It’s a goddamn embarrassment, publishing.” --J.D. Salinger
(from At Home in the World by Joyce Maynard)

Cover Lover is going to skip all that David Copperfield kind of crap regarding Jerome David Salinger and get right to the point: has there ever been another writer so utterly contemptuous of publishers as the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye?
“Give me two hours in the dentist chair before I’ll spend another minute in a publisher’s office,” he told Joyce Maynard in the early 1970’s. “All those insufferable literary types, thoroughly pleased with themselves, who haven’t read a line of Tolstoy since college. All feverishly courting bestsellerdom.”

“They’ve got to offer up all these bright ideas. Unable to produce a single original line themselves, they’re bound and determined to put their stamp squarely on your work . . . Polite suggestions that I change this or that, put in more romance, take out more of that annoying ambiguity . . . slap some terribly clever illustration on the cover . . .”
Let’s be honest: people do judge books by their covers, especially terribly clever ones. It’s why publishers have marketing departments and graphic designers at their disposal. A good book cover serves the same purpose as a short little skating skirt: it catches your attention. One of the true joys of book collecting is marveling at how authors get reinvented decade by decade, each new cover a reflection of an era, a novel little time capsule. A book like The Catcher in the Rye, which has steadily sold some 250,000 copies per year since the early 1950’s, would normally have gone through a few dozen facelifts by now. Hippie Holden. Disco Holden. Yuppie Holden. It’s enough to make Cover Lover want to goddam puke or something.

Happily, Holden Caulfield remains forever frozen in time. Salinger, completely disenchanted with the way the phonies had packaged The Catcher in the Rye, made certain it would never happen again.












Little, Brown first published The Catcher in the Rye in July, 1951. The front cover—illustrated by Michael Mitchell—features a carousel horse; a photograph of Salinger by Lotte Jacobi takes up the entire back cover. The book was reprinted four times in the first month alone, but Salinger was so unhappy with his portrait that it was removed by the third printing (and from all subsequent editions).

The British version of Catcher (published by Hamish Hamilton) featured a moody Fritz Wegner drawing of Holden in his red hunting hat, watching Phoebe run toward the carousel. A fine first edition of the American version will set you back about $20,000; this British edition--which some Salinger fans prefer--costs about $2500.












This is where things get interesting. When New American Library acquired the paperback rights for The Catcher in the Rye, they handed the cover chores to artist James Avati. According to Avati, Salinger was very reluctant to have any art work on his cover, and would have preferred something more sentimental (another carousel horse, perhaps?). Ultimately, Avati convinced him to go along with the company’s marketing scheme, though Avati himself was unhappy with the way his finished painting turned out. Bowing to concerns regarding Salinger's frank use of language, the cover cautioned readers: “This unusual book may shock you, will make you laugh, and may break your heart—but you will never forget it.” Salinger certainly never forgot it. When New American Library’s paperback rights lapsed after ten years, Salinger sold the rights to Bantam Books, along with his own ideas for future covers.

This Modern Library edition—issued in September 1958—shows just how serious Salinger was about keeping his covers simple.

The combination of yellow letters against a maroon background—as designd by Salinger—first appeared in April, 1964. It was a ubiquitous presence on high school and college campuses for decades, and gained a certain level of infamy when Mark David Chapman was photographed reading his copy after shooting John Lennon in December, 1980.

Nine Stories was published by Little, Brown in April, 1953 and is a personal favorite of Cover Lover. Eight of the stories were originally published in The New Yorker; “Down at the Dinghy” originally appeared in Harper’s. Cover credit goes to Miriam Woods, who also worked on Salinger’s next two books.













Despite Salinger’s feelings for Signet, they issued the first paperback edition of Nine Stories in July, 1954. The figure on the left is a first printing; Cover Lover isn't sure if these variations existed with the first printing or were slowly introduced over time. Note the signature of W. D. Miller, which appears on the first printing but is absent from the other examples.

This Modern Library edition of Nine Stories was issued in 1959.

Nine Stories is known in other countries as For Esmé with Love and Squalor. The designer of this British paperback apparently never got Salinger’s memo.













This Bantam edition was first issued in October, 1964, and—like the maroon version of The Catcher in the Rye—was the only edition available for almost 30 years.

Franny and Zooey was published by Little, Brown in 1961 with one of the most boring jackets Cover Lover has ever seen. Or maybe it’s this one, for Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenter and Seymour: An Introduction. Salinger’s last book was published in 1963, and--like its predecessor--contained previously published material. Bantam subsequently issued both books in paperback, with covers identical to the originals.

This Penguin U.K. paperback from 1964 manages to marry Penguin orange with the American artwork, which somewhat amuses Cover Lover.

In the early 90’s, Little, Brown published all four of Salinger’s books with the same black and white covers. Cover Lover has no idea if that bright idea came from Salinger or not.

1 comment:

C. Moon Reed said...

This is such a great blog! It brings me joy to read it. I only wish that somebody would create posters from all these old book covers.