* Where was he
born and all that David Copperfield type crap?
Jerome David Salinger was born in New York in 1919. His
name is Doris. His father, Sol, was a Jew who was in the meat and
cheese business. His relationship with his father was distant and he
didn't even bother to attend his funeral. His mother, of whom he was
very fond, was Irish Catholic. Being half Jewish was a source of
enormous conflict for Salinger.
The cold relationship with his father, his conflict from being half
Jewish, and especially his traumatic experiences in World War II, were
negative aspects of his life which shaped his personality and his
fiction. Let's stop right here.
* Why do you want to know about Salinger?
When you read about the life of J. D. Salinger, ask yourself why
want to know about him. The answer to that question is more important
than the details of his biography. Right?
Are you impressed by the literary value of his work? Are you especially
intrigued by the fact he's a recluse? Do you feel as if you know him?
That he understands you? Are you hoping that in real life he's like
Buddy Glass? (He's not, but more about that later.)
It's not abnormal to be curious about an author who's made an
impression upon you. A good friend of ours found out who John Updike's
dentist is and seriously considered switching dentists just on the
chance he might some day be sitting in the waiting room with him. And
the life of Hemingway is a great read and it sheds some light on his
fiction, but why do so many people want to know about Salinger?
He's a recluse, for one. People always want to know about recluses.
What are they hiding? And if they're not hiding anything, what exactly
is the nature of their psychopathology? It's intriguing. We wonder what
it would be like to harbor such an eccentricity that only fame and
money could buy. When he could be appearing on talk shows and enjoying
the fame that most of us crave, he instead locks himself away and is
the prison guard of his own cell. It was fascinating to read about
Howard Hughes years ago. Here was a filthy rich man who saw no one but
his trusted aides. He had a phobia of germs. He ate the same Baskin
Robbins peach ice cream every night. He never cut his finger nails or
cut his hair. Did he have an aide by his side 24 hours a day armed with
a fly swatter? Who in the hell cares? We do. We are a nation of
People Magazine readers. (I, of course, have never bought a
copy, but its hard to put down while I'm in the grocery check-out line.)
In his biography of Salinger, Paul Alexander speculates that Salinger
enjoyed, on some level, the attention that his reclusiveness generated.
The mystique surrounding him has probably greatly increased his book
sales. Alexander believes that every now and then when it seems
interest is waning, Salinger will do or say something to get back in
the public consciousness. He'll place a phone call to a reporter in San
Francisco or he'll make an unexpected appearance in New York.
A recluse wanting attention? Alexander's evidence isn't too farfetched
and knowing what we do about Salinger, it's believable.
Salinger is a man of contradictions and though he's an extremist, he
never was a purist. He has rigid rules of conduct that he frequently
finds reason to break.
* He only eats organic food but when he's with his son, they sometimes
go out for pizza.
* With his Buddhist beliefs, he scorned worldly desire, but he was vain
about the attention his writing received and he pursued young women for
* Salinger enjoyed aspects of Valley Forge Military School but
portrayed it as a hell hole in his novel.
* Salinger was fond of the military but later had an aversion for it.
* Salinger admired Hemingway but parodied him and spoke critically of
* Salinger thought writers should never have their photographs appear
with their work but he wouldn't have started his relationship with
Joyce Maynard had he not seen her photograph alongside her magazine
So, yes, though Salinger is driven by a force to avoid human contact,
he also yearns for attention, approval and love.
<>* Why is Salinger a
recluse and how did it come about?
At an early age, Salinger was somewhat odd and stand-offish--not to
great degree, but it was noticeable and it drew comment. When called
upon to be social, Salinger could appear to be warm and engaging as if
he were a leading man in an old movie. He frequently would say the
stock phrase, "I've heard so much about you!" He was never really
awkward in manner or speech until his 70’s when angrily confronting
unwanted guests. During his school days he had no problem being the
center of attention when amusing his classmates with well-told stories
and jokes at other people's expense but when it was time to go out
drinking, he usually chose to stay behind. A charming loner.
* <>What's the
with his father?
Salinger had early, inner conflict concerning his father. Sol, who
cold toward his son, constantly placed pressure on him to make money
and to have a secure job with high social status. He also wanted him to
some day take over the family business of importing and processing meat
and cheese from Eastern Europe.
Salinger, as a young man, was sent to Poland by his father to see first
hand that end of the meat business. Surprisingly, Salinger went
willingly, but he was so disgusted by the slaughterhouses that after
that, he firmly decided to embark on a different career path. His
disgust for the meat business and his rejection of his father probably
had a lot to do with his vegetarianism as an adult.
When his father died, Salinger didn't go to the funeral and barely made
mention of the fact to his live-in girlfriend at the time, Joyce
Maynard, and to his daughter, Peggy.
About the only positive thing we know about his father is that he's the
source for the title of Salinger's most acclaimed short story. When
they went to the beach, Sol used to hold Jerry by the waist in the
water and tell him to look for "bananafish."
* What's the deal with being Jewish?
Salinger also felt very conflicted about being half Jewish. (His mother
was Irish Catholic.) This was a conflict of social status, not
religion. Salinger wasn't sure how to define himself but he knew he was
supposed to achieve social status. Being half Jewish drove him nuts.
It was not unusual in the 30's and 40's for people to be openly racist
against Jews. The Ivy League colleges even had a policy not admit too
many of them. To have high social status, you needed money, education,
connections and you had to be a gentile.
* What was his war experience?
The greatest source of mental trauma for Salinger was his experiences
in World War II. He entered the war with a special affection for the
military but soon was right in the middle of some of the most intense,
savage warfare of the century. He would see with his own eyes 50 of his
fellow soldiers die in a day. Sometimes as many as 200. He landed at
Utah Beach in an amphibious craft. Before nightfall, his
counterintelligence group was able to advance two miles inland. For the
next four months he saw some of the worst fighting of the war. In the
first couple weeks, 75% of the soldiers in his unit died. After a few
months, that figure jumped to 125% (his unit, The Twelfth Infantry
Regiment, had a continual stream of replacements.) Salinger also
witnessed some of the most costly blunders made by Allied generals.
After the liberation of Paris, Salinger checked himself into to the
military hospital for going "Section 8." After a few weeks he was
released and he eventually was discharged from the army. It took a bit
of work on his part to get a discharge for other than psychiatric
reasons but somehow he managed it. His daughter believes that he was
one of the first American soldiers to see the horrors of the
concentration camps. Though some of his fictional characters were in
the army, Salinger has never written about or even discussed the horror
of what he experienced. (In Esmé there is an attempt.)
* How did he feel about the Viet Nam War?
During the Viet Nam War he expressed contempt for the military and
caustically ridiculed a few young men who were about to register for
* What were his publisher problems?
All writers see rejection slips before they achieve success but
Salinger's journey down that road seemed particularly rough. Paul
Alexander's book chronicles this progression well. Instead of a sudden
aversion toward editors and publishers, it was gradual and not as
unjustified as one might think.
* What was he like as a student growing up?
He lived on Manhattan's Upper West Side as a child and attended Valley
Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania. Before the military academy, he
flunked out of a few private schools for not even trying to do the
work. Attending the military academy was probably his idea. He probably
wanted to get away from his family. His mother, not his father, took
him to the entrance interview and he was matriculated in just a few
days. Salinger was the manager of the fencing team, just as was Holden
in The Catcher in the Rye. Unlike Holden, Salinger did well at
the military academy and enjoyed it. Salinger was down right fond of
the military until his experiences in World War II.
He briefly attended New York University where he “didn't apply
himself.” Later, he attended Ursinus College, a no-name college which
he said he enjoyed. He seemed particularly proud that it wasn't an Ivy
League school. Salinger had a strong dislike of Ivy League snobbery and
being half Jewish gave him good reason.
At Columbia University he audited a writing class taught by Whit
Burnett who was the editor of Story Magazine. Burnett said
Salinger sat in the back and stared out the window until the last half
of the last semester. He then seemed to come alive. Salinger wrote a
story, The Young Folks, which Burnett decided to run in Story
magazine which was a huge honor. Salinger respected Burnett and Burnett
went out of his way to encourage Salinger. (How did Burnett see any
genius in Salinger? If The Young Folks has any literary
merit, I'd certainly like somebody to show me.)
Friends recall he was a loner and rather impressed with himself. He
immodestly told many people that some day he would be a great writer.
They also recall he was quite handsome.
* What did Salinger write?
Salinger published 35 short stories in various publications, including
many in the Saturday Evening Post, Story, and Colliers
between 1940 and 1948, and The New Yorker from 1948 until 1965.
Thirteen of these stories were collected for his three books, Nine
Stories, Franny and Zooey, and Raise High the Roof
Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. These joined his
short novel, The Catcher in the Rye. The remaining twenty-two
stories were never officially published by Salinger outside their
original magazine appearances. Six were collected in anthologies,
He suffered through ten years of rejection notices from The New
Yorker before one of his stories, A Perfect Day for Bananafish,
was finally accepted. That story sailed through the approval process;
the editors at the New Yorker were very impressed. After that, he
seemed to become the great writer he is known as today.
Some critics believe his distinctive style was influenced by The
New Yorker. Others say that The New Yorker gave him the
freedom to write the way he wanted and allowed him to write about
subjects that other magazines wouldn't touch. Salinger considered The
New Yorker the only magazine that published serious fiction and he
had the strong ambition to only be published there.
The fact that the New Yorker never printed author profiles appealed to
Salinger and he adopted the opinion that the less known about the
author, the more attention can be directed to the literature on the
printed page. This, no doubt, accelerated his reclusion.
To fully appreciate what Salinger does with the story The Laughing
Man, you need to read Oliver LaFarge's award winning (though dated)
novel titled Laughing Boy.
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters is a fascinating story
which is wonderfully constructed. Seymour inspires Buddy with the
parable of the superlative horse yet Buddy, who's less enlightened,
tells the story with one cute but annoying superlative after another.
Franny and Zooey can be a chore to get through but the ending
makes it worth it. You know that book that Franny was obsessed with?
It's a real book, and thanks to Salinger, it's still in print. It's The
Way of A Pilgrim. You can learn all about the Jesus Prayer and how
to pray incessantly. (Paul said to pray incessantly. Not just a lot,
but incessantly. So how do you do that? If you eat, you'll be praying
with your mouth full. It's like the sound of one hand clapping, a
favorite Salinger koan.)
Franny was closely patterned after his wife, Claire. How closely? She
still has the receipt for her copy of The Way of A Pilgrim
which she bought from Bretano's Bookstore. (I wonder what that would
fetch on eBay?) Some people say that Franny, as a young child, was
patterned after Peggy.
Franny and Zooey has had a strong spiritual influence on many
Christians we know--but gosh, it's one book that could have been a lot
shorter. I know of nobody who has ever read it twice, though, at the
time, critics liked it. (I now know hundreds of people who have read it
more than once. After reading this line, they email me and set me
straight. Thank you all for writing. Now please stop.)
The stories that generated the most mail for Salinger were Franny,
Zooey and Teddy. Since he started writing for The New Yorker, only one of
his stories, De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period, was rejected by
them which is odd because it is one of his best. The rejection caught
Salinger off guard and he was deeply disturbed by it.
Later, heads must have rolled at The New Yorker. Realizing they
committed a colossal blunder, the word must have gone down to never
turn down another submission from Salinger again, no matter what.
Salinger probably got wind of that and set himself to typing the long,
meaningless story Hapworth as an act of revenge. Salinger, who
was paid by the word, must have taken perverse delight with every
* What has Salinger's love life been like?
Salinger had a serious attraction to
Oona O'Neill who later married
Charlie Chaplin. Expecting to marry the young Oona himself, he was more
than mildly embittered. Friends say he took it hard and that it took an
unusually long time for him to move on. Some people believe he tried to
have a literary success in Hollywood just to score a point against
His love letters were reported to be elaborate works of art. They were
exceeding clever. Any female reading one would conclude the writer was
highly educated, intelligent, creative and fun. His letters were passed
around and they were so well written that they often scared off the
recipient. On at least one occasion, Salinger was a ghost writer for
another man who was trying to impress a woman. (It didn't work.)
He married a young girl he met in Europe, Sylvia, who he divorced soon
after they came back to the states after the war. Some say the marriage
was annulled. His daughter refers to Sylvia as his first wife. Once, in
the '60s, Salinger got a letter from her and he tore it up without even
opening it. Such extreme behavior is typical Salinger.
Salinger later married Claire Douglas who was a young woman attending
Dartmouth. They had two children and lots of problems. Claire felt
isolated in the house with the two children while Salinger spent all
day and sometimes all night in his writing bunker. Claire is an
intellectual woman who has written books and earned a Ph.D. According
to Peggy, she was not a good mother.
Then he had a number of young girl friends. One
of them was Joyce
Maynard. She had written a magazine article and Salinger wrote her a
fan letter on onion skin paper with a few words of advice on how to
handle fame in her promising future. A correspondence ensued with
plenty of parenthetical remarks on every page. She drove to Windsor and
met him at a restaurant. On her second visit, she moved in. She was 19.
Was Salinger enthralled by her writing? It's doubtful. He probably
wouldn't have started the correspondence with her if her fetching photo
hadn't appeared on the magazine cover.
Maynard had difficulties with Salinger when it came to sex but they
expected these difficulties would go away in time. They talked about
having a baby and even picked out a name but month after month passed
and she was still only able to engage in oral sex. (Do you really want
to know all of this?) Salinger took her to a sex therapist but it
didn't do any good so then he dumped her. Suddenly he just told her
that things weren't working out and that he was probably too old to
have any more children anyway so she should just gather up all her
things and move out. Maynard was devastated.
Sometimes when Salinger saw a pretty, young woman on TV that he was
especially attracted to, he wondered if she might be a big fan of his,
big enough to want to meet him and maybe having a relationship with
him. He wrote to several of them. Catherine Oxenburg was one. She
didn't answer Salinger's letter. TV actress Elaine Joyce did and they
soon met. She was in the show Mr. Merlin at the time. Like Maynard, she
too moved with in with him for a while and their romantic relationship
lasted on and off for about seven years. If she ever writes a book
about Salinger, it will be interesting. Apparently attracted to
writers, Elaine Joyce later married Neil Simon, who, as luck would have
it, had a strong attraction for pretty, young actresses.
Salinger's third wife, if you count Sylvia, is a
nurse 30 years his
junior. Her name is Colleen and they're still married. Colleen is a
simple, kind woman who likes to make tapestries and quilts. She's
active in community affairs and by all accounts is a very nice,
* Has Salinger ever been interviewed?
People who have seen and talked to Salinger recently say he seems
normal. But of course, if they say anything else, he'll never speak to
them again. Most reporters and fans who have talked to him say he's
Salinger once gave an interview to two schoolgirls for their school
paper, and he has at least twice talked with people who politely
approached him. But the so-called interviews to the press consisted
mostly of, "I don't give interviews" spoken through a front door just
According to Ian Hamilton, the schoolgirl article was played up as a
"scoop" and it was then that he stopped socializing with the local
teenagers. He was very upset by the article.
Yes, Salinger used to socialize with local teenagers. That is, he
opened up his house and let them drop by, hang out, play his stereo,
and throw impromptu parties. After the newspaper interview appeared,
his teenage "friends" were no longer welcome at his house.
The press has behaved very badly in their pursuit of Salinger. He's
made it very clear that he doesn't want to talk to the press or to
anybody else about literary matters. Unfortunately, those who have made
contact with Salinger appear to be among the most stupid people on
So don't visit his house. You could get arrested, but worse than that,
it would be the wrong thing to do. Also, don't try contacting his son
or his sister or other relatives. But you could read the book his
daughter wrote. It's very good.
* What does Salinger do for entertainment?
On Wednesdays he used to go into town and eat lunch at a pub called
Peter Christian's (which has been replaced by Zin's). Sometimes he
ordered organic soup and other times he had a sandwich called "Peter's
Mother's Favorite" which had turkey in it, among other things. And he
would order extra pickles and chips.
He has an extensive collection of old movies which he plays on a reel
to reel projector. He used to lend some of his films to the Dartmouth
It might depress you to know that Salinger has always been an avid TV
watcher. Gilligan's Island, Leave it to Beaver, Peyton Place, Dynasty,
and obviously, Mr. Merlin. His favorite was, and maybe still is, The
Andy Griffith Show. He watches TV while eating dinner off of a folding
metal tray in his living room. There's now a satellite dish on his
house which you can see from the public road at foot of his driveway.
* What do his children think of him?
Though they lived under the same roof, Salinger treated Matthew and
Peggy differently so it's not a surprise that they feel differently
about him. Matt adores his dad and sees him often. Peggy wrote a
stingingly critical book about him and the two will probably never
speak to each other again.
When Peggy was grown and was excited with the news that she was going
to have a baby, Salinger didn't tell her he looked forward to being a
grandfather. Insead, he told Peggy that he was disgusted by her
pregnancy and that she should have an abortion. Salinger, the oddball
that he is, looked upon pregnancy as something unclean and unnatural.
That was confirmed by Peggy's mother. Salinger gave her a terrible time
during her two pregnancies.
* What do his friends and family call him?
Not J.D. Not Jerome. It's Jerry. When he was a boy, it was "Sonny."
* How can I contact Salinger?
Well, you could befriend his son Matt by offering him a part in the
next movie you're casting and then ask him to pass a note to his dad
when he sees him in Cornish for Thanksgiving dinner. It wouldn't be the
first time. But do you really want to contact a person who wants to be
left alone? That's not nice. If you are curious about how to find J. D.
Salinger's house in Cornish, New Hampshire, or if you would just like
to know the best way to send him a letter, send me an email and
convince me you're not a pest. Please do not actually try to see him
and if you try to write him, keep in mind your chances of getting a
response are quite slim.
There was a time when Salinger answered inquires if they happened to
come from very young, very pretty women, but now that he's in his 80's
and seriously hard of hearing, he's probably "outgrown" that behavior.
(We sure hope so.)
* Where does Salinger live?
Some biographers say he lives in the same red barn-like house he bought
back in 1953 in Cornish, New Hampshire. But no, his divorced wife,
Claire Douglas, got it in the settlement. J. D. moved to a similar
place down Lang Road. The two properties are connected and are a part
of the 450 acres that Salinger owns. They call this first house "The
Red House." Claire moved to Norwich, Vermont and then to the Pacific
Northwest. The house was rented out to a group of Dartmouth students
and then it was later sold.
This first house was on about 100 acres. In the early '60s he found out
that on some nearby pasture land there were plans to build a trailer
park so he jumped in and bought the land, 450 acres.
Salinger wanted to buy a place near Essex or Ipswich or Glouester, but
he thought he couldn't afford it. This was before anybody knew what a
great success The Catcher in the Rye would turn out to be. When
he bought this first house, it didn't have running water or
electricity. The main house is hidden by a fence and birch trees. He
used to spend time on a vegetable garden there.
* What does he drive?
He used to drive an old jeep that had curtains in the side windows. He
also used to drive a BMW and his wife's Rover. Everyone who's ever
ridden with him says he drives too fast, almost like he's back in WWII
* Where does he write?
His first house had a cement bunker for writing on his property which
was about 100 yards away from the main, single story house. A stream
flowed between the bunker and the main house. The roof was translucent
green fiberglass. There was a wood stove which served as the source of
heat but which he also used for cooking from time to time. There was an
intercom that connected to the main house but it was only for
emergencies since he absolutely hated to be interrupted. His wife,
Claire, stayed all alone in the house while Salinger sometimes was in
his bunker for as long as 16 hours. During the early days, their house
didn't have a phone. The concrete blocks were painted green and they
referred to it as "The Green House." Inside, a cot took up one side of
a wall. On the opposite side was his desk and chair. His chair was
actually a large car seat, believe it or not, large enough to sit on in
the lotus position. The car seat was supported on wood and bricks to
bring it closer to desk level. On the desk was a manual typewriter.
Taped all over the place within reach of his writing position were
small post-it-like notes. They were on the wall, his lamp, his
typewriter, etc. Later, when he moved to his second house, he took the
car seat with him for his new study which is now inside his house.
Sometime when he had writers block, he left Cornish for a week or two
and checked himself into a resort hotel to do some writing there.
Later in life, Salinger stopped having long bouts of inspiration. He
instead settled into a routine of rising early and knocking off work
around 2 pm.
* Does he continue to write?
Salinger testified in court in 1986 that he does and he's told a couple
reporters who have barged in on him that he does, but is it true?
That's hard to say. His daughter Margaret believes it's true. When
Joyce Maynard was living with him, she said he entered his study and
spent most of the day there but she never saw his writing nor the vault
where he said he kept his written work. Maynard said that Salinger
would rise early, eat breakfast and then enter his study to first
mediate and then write.
It's true that Salinger is spending time alone in a room every day and
he says he's writing but it's conceivable that all he's doing is
mediating or reading or writing drivel or writing “All work and no play
makes Jack a dull boy” a la Jack Nickelson in The Shining.
When asked once if this writing would be published posthumously, he was
evasive. He said he's writing for himself. But his daughter said he
once called her into his study to show off how he color coded his
manuscripts. One color meant to publish it as-is after his death.
Another color signified it could be released after his death but only
after it was edited. And there were other colors for other conditions.
So, if he's been writing all these years, why is he in the process of
publishing Hapworth in book form? That doesn't make any sense. Hapworth
is garbage. If he's actually been writing, he would publish something
else. The fact that publishing Hapworth doesn't make any sense might be
the simple reason he wants to do it. And it could be a riddle which
indicates when he expects to die. More on that later.
* What kind of clothes does Salinger wear?
Sometimes pressed jeans or painters' pants but usually L.L Bean kind of
clothing when he's hanging around Cornish. He's always been fastidious.
Sometimes he wears an English tailored wool jacket.
* Did his children inherit any of his talent?
Yes. Peggy became a scholar, studied at Oxford and wrote a great book
about her life with father. Matthew became an actor/producer. Yes, that
* What does Salinger eat?
Mostly vegetarian with the exception of smoked salmon and lamb cooked
at 150 degrees. In town, he sometimes orders salad, organic soup,
turkey sandwiches and pizza. At home he eats frozen vegetables, usually
peas. For a time he worked hard in his large garden and made an honest
attempt to grow all the food he needed.
* Is Salinger a good writer?
Good question, even if I do ask it myself. Does Salinger receive
attention because he's a good writer or because he's a recluse? He's
generally considered a major American author who would have been a
best-selling author regardless of his personal idiosyncrasies but it's
also true that he continues to sell an enormous amount of books each
year due to the mystique.
He might be one of the best American writers of the 20th century. But a
lot of the attention he gets is because of a peculiar cult-like draw he
has over a lot of people. Norman Mailer and John Updike don't think he
deserves all the attention he gets but Nabokov was in complete awe of A
Perfect Day for Bananafish.
Mailer said that Salinger was "one of the best minds that ever remained
in prep school."
Some say the only reason The Catcher in the Rye sold well
initially was due to the selection by the Book of the Month Club but
that opinion is not widely held.
The critics were mildly impressed with it but it slowly built a strong
following, especially on college campuses.
* Why doesn't he have his portrait on the dust jackets of his books?
Salinger was strange before the publication of The Catcher in the
Rye but his reclusiveness and odd behavior took a dramatic u
during its publication. He insisted that the cover be unadorned and
that his portrait not appear on the dust cover. For a first time
novelist, he placed extraordinary demands on his publishers.
Why didn't he want his picture on the cover? It could be that he was
extending the attitude of The New Yorker that what really
counted were the words on the page, not the personality that wrote
them. Other writers from The New Yorker didn't shun publicity
like this when they published their books but Salinger had a way of
jumping into things as an extremist.
Salinger's fiction is character driven, not plot driven. He wrote with
such authenticating detail that you feel like there really must have
been the Glass family. When you close one of his books, you half expect
to see the author listed as "Buddy Glass." The words "J. D. Salinger"
wake us up from the dream like suspension of disbelief. To have put his
picture or biographical information would have interfered with illusion
he wanted us to at least partially believe, that the characters he made
* How does he write?
With a typewriter using just two fingers.
* What's his favorite movie?
39 Steps, without a doubt. (He watches it over and over and it's
practicaly an obsession.)
* Was Salinger ever a Scientologist?
Sort of. He dabbled in it for a brief period of time and then abandoned
* Does he practice homeopathy?
Yes, and this has been a strong interest he's held onto for years. He
still spends quite a bit of time on it during a typical day.
* Is he an expert on Eastern philosophy and literature?
He'd like you to think so, but his knowledge is about what you'd have
if you minored in Eastern Thought at a state college.
* Were there any other sweet young things other than Joyce Maynard?
Yes. Several. One he traveled to Scotland to see one but concluded she
was "too homely." She was a fan who wrote him a letter. Part of the
attraction was due to the fact she lived in Scotland, the setting of 39
* Did he really once refer to Holden as a real person?
His daughter says he talked about all of his characters as real people,
not as characters in fiction. And he never mentioned the titles of his
books. So yes, he probably did, when he was once quoted saying, "Holden
* Did Salinger really see Hemingway shoot the head off of a chicken?
Probably not. We believe he saw Hemingway just once, at the Ritz, when
Paris was liberated.
* Which house of his caught on fire?
Both of them did. The first house fire originated in the closet and may
have been set by his wife Claire. The fire at his second house did not
do much damage. (Friends of Claire have contacted me to say that she in
no way had anything to do with the fire but they weren't there either.
Read Peggy's book and decide for yourself.)
* Salinger dislikes most people but who does he actually like?
Judge Learned Hand and William Shawn and his jeep buddy during WWII
whose name escapes me.
* What's up with Hapworth 16, 1924? And when is it going to
It was already published fourty years ago in The New Yorker.
Salinger arranged to have it reissued in book form by Orchises Press of
Virginia but when it will be out is anybody's guess. The publisher at
Orchises Press talked to reporters about it which probably made
Salinger madder than hell. Indeed it is one more Salinger-made-mystery
for us to ponder. It's a riddle and in a few more paragraph I'll tell
you what I make of it.
If you can't wait to see how awful Hapworth is, visit your local
university library. Ask for the June 19th, 1965 issue of The New
Yorker. If you want to photocopy it, bring a lot of quarters.
It is a long piece without any point and there hasn't been any serious
reviewers who have been in the least bit positive (aside from an
English professor I know but I suspect he would also the emporer was
fully clothed.) One wonders why Salinger wrote it. It reads like the
product of a once talented man who now is suffering from mental
Like Picasso's dog face sculpture in Chicago or Robert Graham's
poop-shaped Quetzaquatl statue in San Jose or Bob Dylan's singing like
Gabby Hayes, Hapworth isn't the real deal. It's intentionally
poor work created by a famed artist who knows, sadly, that he can get
away with it. And the joke is on is.
Students of Salinger will only want to read it to see how remarkably
bad it is.
Salinger, who always wanted to be Seymour Glass (but settled, at least
in his own mind, for being Buddy), seems to know him better now and has
changed his mind. Salinger doesn't like him anymore and he doesn't want
us to like him either. Seymour disillusions us with his own words and
in a way, it's like a suicide.
Salinger keeps delaying the publication date of Hapworth and
it's my belief, though I confess it sounds a trifle bizarre, that he's
planning his own death to coincide with the date of publication. Nobody
writes about suicide as much as Salinger without actively considering
it himself. And this work looks like an act of literary suicide for
Salinger as well as a character suicide for Seymour. I believe Salinger
keeps delaying publication because he's not quite ready to die.
* How can I find out more about J. D. Salinger?
The best secondary source we've read on Salinger's work is the one by
Professor John Wenke. His biographical information is outdated (well,
highly inaccurate, to tell you the truth) but his literary analysis is
Ian Hamilton, the respected poet, wrote a fairly good book called In
Search of J. D. Salinger. Like us, the more Hamilton learned about
Salinger, the less he cared to know. And not surprisingly, this is a
well written book. The only problem with reading this first is that it
might make your lose your appetite for more information.
There's a biography by Paul Alexander which is fairly good: J.D.
Salinger : A Biography. A serious problem with this book is that it
takes every interesting rumor about Salinger and prints it as fact.
Alexander talked to a lot of people and did a great deal of research
but I think he was careless with what he included. It is not the work
of Woodward and Bernstein. Also, he reports about conversations between
Salinger and Joyce Maynard and his version is rather different from
Maynard’s. What are his sources? The only other person present was
Salinger himself and had Alexander communicated with Salinger, he would
have put that on the dust jacket. Alexander's book is good at filling
in gaps and showing how Salinger made gradual changes in his
personality. Alexander is also good at linking Salinger's fiction with
his personal life though Alexander doesn't quite understand all of
Salinger's fiction. Literature is not his field. Read this book to gain
an overall understanding but keep in mind it's the least accurate of
Joyce Maynard's book, At Home in the World, is much, much
better than the critics would have you believe. I was expecting to be
disgusted by it but I wasn't. First of all, Maynard is an excellent
writer. Second, she includes many unflattering facts about herself
which she could have easily left out which makes her book rather
credible. Third, her book actually sheds light on understanding
Salinger and how his life and fiction are related. Maynard is not a
likable person but this is a good book.
But the best book, by far, is the one by Salinger's daughter, Margaret
(Peggy) Salinger. It's called Dream Catcher: A Memoir. It's
also the one that's the most critical. It's especially good at
explaining the context of WWII and the fact of his being half Jewish.
This book goes beyond reporting facts. It's also a good source for
confirming many of the questionable things Maynard wrote about. (Her
chapter heading quotations are sometimes distracting and strangely off
topic and there are sections where she seems to digress into
interesting theories just to show off her expensive education, but
these are small faults when you consider the book as a whole.)
Salinger is an odd, unhappy person and a genius. When you read his
biography, you'll be glad you're not him. There's more to life than
being a genius. Salinger knows this, and even says so in his writings,
but it hasn't done him any good. In short, his books are wonderful but
his life stinks.
* J. D. is not your Buddy
You know how in A Perfect Day for Bananafish Seymour screams
at his wife for not bothering to learn German so she can read some of
the books he recommends? That's how nuts and hostile Jerry Salinger is
in real life. And remember the part where he kisses the bottom of the
girl's foot? Well, Joyce Maynard can tell you about that. Bananafish is
a good story for understanding Salinger--his attraction for young
girls, his irrational, hostile temper, his brilliance, his belief that
he just doesn't belong in the real world. Too smart, too sensitive, too
crazy and a bit of a pervert.
Salinger, too, commits suicide, but he's been doing it very slowly.
If you feel a powerful need to personally connect with Salinger, that
might just be what he wanted. Read his biographies and you'll cure
yourself of that desire. But there's another reason to read his
biographies. You'll be able to see how his writing was like therapy. He
tried to become Buddy Glass by creating him in fiction.
But it didn't work.
Sarah Morrill is the proprietress of Morrill Books, an
bookstore in San Francisco.