J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger

A Life

Book - 2010 | 1st U.S. ed.
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One of the most popular and mysterious figures in American literary history, J.D. Salinger eluded fans and journalists for most of his life. Now comes a new biography. Filled with new information and revelations, garnered from countless interviews, letters, and public records, this work presents his extraordinary life that spanned nearly the entire twentieth century. The author explores Salinger's privileged youth, long obscured by misrepresentation and rumor, revealing the brilliant, sarcastic, vulnerable son of a disapproving father and doting mother and his entrance into a social world where Gloria Vanderbilt dismissively referred to him as a Jewish boy from New York. Here too are accounts of Salinger's first broken heart (Eugene O'Neill's daughter, Oona, left him for the much older Charlie Chaplin) and the devastating World War II service of which he never spoke and which haunted him forever. This work features all the dazzle of his early writing successes, his dramatic encounters with luminaries from Ernest Hemingway to Laurence Olivier to Elia Kazan, his surprising office intrigues with famous New Yorker editors and writers, and the stunning triumph of The Catcher in the Rye, which would both make him world famous and hasten his retreat into the hills of New Hampshire. Whether it is revealing the facts of his hasty, short lived first marriage or his lifelong commitment to Eastern religion, which would dictate his attitudes toward sex, nutrition, solitude, and creativity, this biography is Salinger's unforgettable story in full.
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2010.
Edition: 1st U.S. ed.
ISBN: 9781400069514
Characteristics: x, 450 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.


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gord_ma Feb 02, 2018

* Winner of the 2012 New Jersey Council for the Humanities Book Award

Kenneth Slawenski’s [Salinger: A Life] is the most balanced, the least sensationalist, the most satisfying, and the most useful account of the life and the career of J.D. Salinger that is currently available in print.

Many literary biographies on Salinger that I have read have tended to be sensationalist, antagonistic, spiteful, gossipy, disrespectful, and devoid of any information on how he became a successful writer. Such works, marketed to capitalize on the general public’s fascination with a reclusive celebrity, talk a good game about pulling back the veil to reveal some hidden monstrosity but in the end leave its readers hanging. One such biography stated that the authors of the book, having failed to contact Salinger directly for an interview, went to the village’s post office where they absconded with Salinger’s mail, opened his letters, and revealed their contents. Indeed, such works reveal more about their respective authors than the subject.

Nevertheless, Kenneth Slawenski, who is also the founder of a website on Salinger named DeadCaulfields.com, has in this book accomplished what many have failed to do: shape years of research into a reasonably objective but also interesting and useful text about Salinger and his writings without violating the privacy of anyone. For example: of three book-length biographies that I have read on J.D. Salinger, only Slawenski wrote of the instrumental advocacy and the painstaking editing by William Shawn, The New Yorker editor and the man Salinger credited with his stardom. Only Slawenski chronicled how The New Yorker’s then staid, tired, and reactionary fiction department received this new and riotously popular writer, from resistance to revolt to coup d’état. That The New Yorker fought tooth and nail against publishing, undoubtedly, the one writer they are now most famously associated with spoke more to me about Salinger's place in time and in culture than unverified reports on Salinger’s dietary habits in Cornish, New Hampshire.

Of course, even with Slawenski’s research, many questions and uncertainties remain unanswered with regards to Mr. Salinger. Questions and riddles that posterity will surely answer, either by Slawenski or another biographer or perhaps by Salinger’s own hand (via some hidden autobiography) or even by Holden Caulfield, even if he doesn’t “feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth” (The Catcher in the Rye, pg.1).

debwalker Mar 01, 2011

"Almost as famous for his reclusiveness as for his writing, the author of The Catcher in the Rye wasn't much for self-disclosure. A year after his death, this well-researched biography helps shed light, and it's not always pretty. Slawenski describes a man convinced of his superiority-to the editors who "butchered" his work, to the fans who stalked his rural home. Like his professional relationships, his love life was tumultuous. He dated Charlie Chaplin's future wife Oona before marrying three times and having two children. By the time he died at 91, Salinger's son described his father as having been "in the world but not of it." J.D. Salinger is an invaluable contribution to our knowledge of the man, his demons and the literary legacy that was his most unselfish gift."
Meredith Maran, People


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