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The Catcher in the Rye
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The Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger

J.D. Salinger – literature’s most famous recluse - died on January 27th, 2010, at age 91. What exactly was his crime? He wrote one of the most popular and influential novels of the 20th century and then decided he hated publishing. He decided he preferred his own company and the quiet life in small-town New Hampshire rather than hustle and bustle of editors messing with his work, long lines of fans at book signings, interview after interview where the journalists keep asking the same questions about Holden Caulfield, and all the other demands of being a top-flight author.

And you know what? Salinger didn’t have to do anything because The Catcher in the Rye has been selling hundreds of thousands of copies every year since it was published on July 16, 1951.  

Forget the amazing sales for a moment, for the Baby Boomers, The Catcher in the Rye is probably THE book of the century although Jack Kerouac’s On The Road might run it close. And Salinger found success the old fashioned way, without an army of publicists, Oprah’s endorsement and the Internet.

People always want more – another book like The Catcher in the Rye please – but Salinger wanted less. He just wanted to write and be left alone in Cornish, New Hampshire. He was a solitary soul and valued his privacy.

Some of the Many Faces of The Catcher in the Rye

El Cazador Oculto

First Argentine Edition
Compania General Fabril Editora, 1961

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Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye

New Library Edition
New American Library, New York, 1953

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Salinger’s quest for less put him in the news again in 2009 with his attempt to block the publication of 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye by J.D. California – an unauthorized sequel to The Catcher in the Rye.  The interest in this man never seemed to wane.

The most expensive copy of The Catcher in the Rye (a first edition, first printing, in fine condition) sold by AbeBooks went for $11,000 earlier in 2009. Any document signed by the author instantly gained a four-figure price-tag.

Jerome David Salinger
J.D. Salinger
J.D. Salinger in 1951
An artist's depiction of what an older Salinger might look like.

Jerome David Salinger was born on New Year’s Day 1919 in Manhattan.  He grew up in the Bronx and showed an early love of writing while working for his school newspaper at McBurney School.  Salinger was first published in 1940 when Story Magazine printed a short story called The Young Folks.

In December 1941, The New Yorker accepted Slight Rebellion Off Madison, Salinger’s story about a disaffected teenager named Holden Caulfield with pre-war jitters.  However, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor just days later and the story was spiked until 1946. Salinger served in the US army and was part of the Normandy Landings and the Battle of the Bulge, although he was writing continuously with a typewriter he hauled around Europe. He even enjoyed a war-time meeting with Ernest Hemingway, then a war correspondent in Paris. 

Salinger spent the rest of the conflict in counter-intelligence where he used his French and German to question prisoners of war. He also entered liberated concentration camps and was treated for combat stress.  It is speculated his experiences inspired stories such as For Esmé with Love and Squalor.

The Catcher in the Rye was hailed by The New York Times as “an unusually brilliant first novel.”  Within two months, it was reprinted eight times. A year later, he was still doing interviews and he admitted to Book of the Month Club News he admired Kafka, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Proust, O'Casey, Rilke, Lorca, Keats, Rimbaud, Burns, Emily Brontë, Jane Austen, Henry James, Blake, and Coleridge but refused to name any living writers.

Salinger in Story Magazine

As the 1950s wore on, every brooding teenager was seen grasping a much-thumbed copy of The Catcher in the Rye. The cult classic was banned in several countries and some North American schools because of Holden’s foul language.  This censorship continued for years.

In 1961, Salinger, who had already been keeping a low profile since 1953, published Franny and Zooey. On the dustjacket, he wrote: “It is my rather subversive opinion that a writer’s feelings of anonymity-obscurity are the second most valuable property on loan to him during his working years.”  Naturally, he refused to reveal the most valuable property.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction was published in 1963. On 19 June 1965, the The New Yorker printed the last Salinger work to be published - a novella called Hapworth 16, 1924 that filled most of the magazine.

Salinger in The New Yorker

So Salinger lived the quiet life for more than 40 years and the world spent more than 40 years wondering what he was up to.

Salinger’s daughter, Margaret, wrote in her 1999 memoir, Dream Catcher, about her father’s strong interest with various religions and alternative medicines.   But Matt Salinger, Margaret’s brother, publicly discredited many of Dream Catcher’s claims in a letter to the New York Observer stating: “I can't say with any authority that she is consciously making anything up. I just know that I grew up in a very different house, with two very different parents from those my sister describes.”

Not a great deal is known about Salinger’s private life. In 1953, he was interviewed by a high school student for the student page in The Daily Eagle, Cornish’s local paper, but it was one of his last. He married Claire Douglas in 1955 and they had two children, divorcing in 1967.


ISBN 0671042815  Dream Catcher by Margaret Salinger

Dream Catcher
Margaret Salinger

ISBN 1580630804  Salinger: A Biography by Paul Alexander

Salinger: A Biography
Paul Alexander

ISBN 0791061752 J.D. Salinger by Harold Bloom

J.D. Salinger
Harold Bloom

ISBN 076790799X With Love and Squalor: 14 Writers Respond to the Work of J.D. Salinger Edited by Kip Kotzen and Thomas Beller

With Love and Squalor
Kip Kotzen (Editor)

In 1974, Salinger agreed to be interviewed by The New York Times so he could vent his fury at the unauthorized publication of The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J. D. Salinger. “It’s unfair,” he said. “Suppose you had a coat you liked and somebody went into your closet and stole it.  That’s how I feel.”

In 1986, Salinger challenged British author Ian Hamilton over his biography In Search of J.D. Salinger: A Writing Life (1935-65), because it revealed the contents of letters he had written to authors and friends. In 1988, he married a nurse called Colleen O'Neill, who was 40 years his junior.

In that final 1974 interview in the New York Times, Salinger said: “There is a marvellous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”

Fair enough.


Salinger in The Saturday Evening Post

Salinger in Other Magazines

More Collectible J.D. Salinger