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NATIONAL BESTSELLER · The inspiration for the major motion picture Rebel in the Rye
One of the most popular and mysterious figures in American literary history, the author of the classic Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger eluded fans and journalists for most of his life. Now he is the subject of this definitive biography, which is filled with new information and revelations garnered from countless interviews, letters, and public records.
Kenneth Slawenski explores Salinger’s privileged youth, long obscured by misrepresentation and rumor, revealing the brilliant, sarcastic, vulnerable son of a disapproving father and doting mother. Here too are accounts of Salinger’s first broken heart—after Eugene O’Neill’s daughter, Oona, left him—and the devastating World War II service that haunted him forever. J. D. Salinger features this author’s dramatic encounters with luminaries from Ernest Hemingway to Elia Kazan, his 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. J. D. Salinger is this unique author’s unforgettable story in full—one that no lover of literature can afford to miss.
Praise for J. D. Salinger: A Life
“Startling . . . insightful . . . [a] terrific literary biography.”—USA Today
“It is unlikely that any author will do a better job than Mr. Slawenski capturing the glory of Salinger’s life.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Slawenski fills in a great deal and connects the dots assiduously; it’s unlikely that any future writer will uncover much more about Salinger than he has done.”—Boston Sunday Globe
“Offers perhaps the best chance we have to get behind the myth and find the man.”—Newsday
“[Slawenski has] greatly fleshed out and pinned down an elusive story with precision and grace.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“Earnest, sympathetic and perceptive . . . [Slawenski] does an evocative job of tracing the evolution of Salinger’s work and thinking.”—The New York Times
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2011: In the year since his death, we've heard much more about J.D. Salinger's reclusiveness and eccentricities, both real and exaggerated, than we have about the writing that made him famous in the first place. Kenneth Slawenski's Salinger: A Life avoids such scandalmongering in order to deliver a sensitive (but not fawning) portrait of Salinger the writer. Slawenski looks not only at Salinger's most famous works, but also finds a wealth of psychological insights in places like rejection letters and biographical statements. Not surprisingly, Salinger's life, and especially his service in World War II, provided much of the raw material for his stories. But Slawenski does much more than compare Salinger's biography to his literary output: he also shows how compromises, conflicts, and editorial intrigues shaped Salinger's works, even when he was at the peak of his career. The book has much less to say about Salinger's post-1960 retirement and self-seclusion, apart from the author's occasional foray into the public eye by way of a rare interview or court case. But Slawenski does this for good reason: Salinger: A Life seeks only to explain Salinger as most of us knew him, through his writing. As a result, both die-hard fans and those who last picked up Catcher in the Rye in high school will find it enlightening. --Darryl Campbell
A Look Inside J.D. Salinger: A Life
© PS 166
Until he was thirteen, Sonny attended public school on the Upper West Side. This is a class photo of Salinger and his schoolmates on the steps of P.S. 166, circa 1929.
© Valley Forge Military Academy
Cadet Corporal Salinger in 1936. Salinger’s yearbook photo from Valley Forge Military Academy. Salinger used his own boarding school as the inspiration for Holden Caulfield’s Pency Prep when writing The Catcher in the Rye. Unlike Holden, Salinger excelled at Valley Forge.
© Dorothy Nollman/Peter Imbres
Jerry in 1939. A photo taken by his friend Dorothy Nollman while on break from Columbia University. Within a year, Salinger’s first short story would be published and his career launched.
Between boot camp and combat. Air Corps photo taken in 1943 while Salinger was assigned to the Public Relations Department of the Air Service Command. A year later he would be fighting in Europe.
Kenneth Slawenski is the creator of DeadCaulfields.com, a website founded in 2004 and recommended by The New York Times. He has been working on this biography for eight years. Slawenski was born in New Jersey, and has lived there all his life.
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