Unlike the famous literary character Holden Caulfied who has been probed, dissected, and analyzed in English classes since the 1950s, Jerome David Salinger remains — to borrow a description from Winston Churchill — a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Like fellow American author Thomas Pynchon (born in 1937, author of V., The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow), J. D. Salinger lived a very reclusive life — rarely granting interviews (his last interview was in 1980) and shunning publicity for more than half a century. Like Caulfield, Salinger despised “phonies” and lived quietly in Cornish, New Hampshire with his third wife, Colleen, where he wrote in a modest — but very secure — shed every day until he died in 2010.
Several intrepid biographers have attempted to part the curtain to reveal the real J. D. Salinger. Indeed, the real Salinger, like many famous authors, was a very idiosyncratic individual. The biographies consistently reveal one curious fact: the author had a penchant for very extreme May-December relationships (for example, his first wife, Colleen O’Neill was 40 years his junior; a later love interest, Joyce Maynard, was 35 years his junior). No doubt, Salinger, like his literary characters, will remain a subject of fascination for decades to come. Bookshelf presents some of the best books on J. D. Salinger:
In Search of J. D. Salinger by Ian Hamilton, Random House (1988): Hamilton is a British critic, editor, and biographer. It was this book, that brought Salinger out of his self-imposed exile. Salinger sued Random House to prevent its publication, since it borrowed from his unpublished letters.
At Home in the World: A Memoir by Joyce Maynard, Picador (1998): Maynard was Salinger’s love interest for a ten-months period from 1972 to 1973. At the time, Salinger was 53 years old and Maynard was 18.
Salinger: A Biography by Paul Alexander, Renaissance Books (1999): Alexander is a journalist who has written biographies of Sylvia Plath and James Dean.
Dream Catcher: A Memoir by Margaret Salinger, Washington Square Press (2000): Margaret is Salinger’s daughter by his second wife, Claire Douglas.
J. D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski, Random House (2010): Slawenski is a journalist and the creator of DeadCaulfieds.com that examines the life and works of J. D. Salinger. The website contains intriguing insights into the author’s life and works. For example, in 1995 Salinger revealed that his favorite book was The Landsmen by Peter Martin.
Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno, Simon & Schuster (2013): Although criticized for its lack of cohesive narrative, the book does present fascinating anecdotes and perspectives drawn from more than 200 interviews over a period of five years. Unlike the previous biographies, this book features more than 100 exclusive photos of the author’s writings over six decades. More importantly, the book serves as a companion piece to the release of the fascinating documentary, Salinger, directed by Shields and Salerno, which features well-known actors and writers (including rare archival footage of Salinger himself) discussing the author and his work.
For further reading: deadcaulfields.com