Monday December 14th, 2009

“A Sensitive, Intelligent, Talented Young Actor in a Reversible Coat wouldn’t nearly be enough.”

STsalingerLetters of Note is a great, relatively new web site that collects all kinds of correspondence, including office memos. It features plenty of traditional letters, a bunch of them from prominent authors. In 1957, for instance, J. D. Salinger wrote to a Mr. Herbert, who had inquired about the film rights for The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger was set against selling them:

I keep saying this and nobody seems to agree, but The Catcher in the Rye is a very novelistic novel. There are readymade “scenes”—only a fool would deny that—but, for me, the weight of the book is in the narrator’s voice, the non-stop peculiarities of it, his personal, extremely discriminating attitude to his reader-listener, his asides about gasoline rainbows in street puddles, his philosophy or way of looking at cowhide suitcases and empty toothpaste cartons—in a word, his thoughts.

Not a bad summary of why so many film adaptations don’t do justice to the books. Salinger was also suspicious of actors:

Not to mention, God help us all, the immeasurably risky business of using actors. Have you ever seen a child actress sitting crosslegged on a bed and looking right? I’m sure not. And Holden Caulfield himself, in my undoubtedly super-biassed opinion, is essentially unactable. A Sensitive, Intelligent, Talented Young Actor in a Reversible Coat wouldn’t nearly be enough. [. . .] I’ll stop there. I’m afraid I can only tell you, to end with, that I feel very firm about all this, if you haven’t already guessed. Thank you, though, for your friendly and highly readable letter. My mail from producers has mostly been hell.

Other highlights include: A letter from Kurt Vonnegut to his family from a repatriation camp in 1945; a heartwarming exchange between Dr. Seuss and an aspiring young writer; and a brilliant form letter that Robert Heinlein would send to fans (and critics). You can also read a worthwhile interview with the site’s founder here.

(Via Very Short List)