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In researching Salinger: A Biography, journalist and biographer Paul Alexander conducted over forty interviews with major literary figures including George Plimpton, Gay Talese, Ian Hamilton, Harold Bloom, Roger Angell, A. Scott Berg, Robert Giroux, Ved Mehta, Gordon Lish, and Tom Wolfe. Alexander's research also took him to newly available archives at Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and Columbia universities, NYU, and the New York Public Library. Response from critics has been overwhelming.
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So averse to any kind of publicity that he went to court to prevent a previous biography, J.D. Salinger will undoubtedly be distressed by this book as well, especially since author Paul Alexander suggests that the writer's reclusiveness might be just a shrewd ploy to pique readers' interest and maintain good sales for his books. The Catcher in the Rye hardly needs that kind of help; the novel has been hugely popular since its initial release in 1951, though even then Salinger found the publication process distasteful. What made him abnormally sensitive to the stresses of public life? Readers won't find out here, although Alexander capably narrates the scant biographical material available: Salinger's birth in 1919; his aimless, academically underachieving youth; military service in some of World War II's grimmest battles; two failed marriages; self-exile from publishing at the height of his fame; the 1973 affair with teenage writer Joyce Maynard; and her arguably revengeful 1998 memoir. It would probably please Salinger that the psychological forces that power his creativity and eccentricity remain a mystery. Alexander notes the writer's near-exclusive focus on young people in his fiction, as well as the fact that Salinger's romantic relations have almost all been with very young women, but he can't really explain these facts. There just isn't enough information, although some enjoyably gossipy quotes from various interviews (ranging from usual literary suspects like George Plimpton to Salinger's former housekeeper) keep the book quite readable. --Wendy SmithAbout the Author:
Paul Alexander holds an M.F.A. from the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa. He is the author of biographies of Sylvia Plath, James Dean, and Andy Warhol. A former reporter for Time, he has written for numerous magazines, most recently including Mirabella and Rolling Stone. He is a currently a featured political correspondent for Bloomberg News.
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