Catcher in the Rye, the hilarious and profane classic tale of adolescent angst, begins with Holden Caulfield’s unmistakable voice:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
J.D. Salinger spent much of the rest of his life avoiding discussion of that David Copperfield kind of crap, famously withdrawing from the world in the 1950s. He was born Jan. 1, 1919 to a prosperous Jewish family in Manhattan. In 1942 he was drafted into the U.S. Army and he saw combat, entered a liberated concentration camp and met Ernest Hemingway. had grown up in Manhattan, part of a wealthy Jewish family, and served in World War II. He wrote short stories and poems, but with limited success until The New Yorker Magazine published A Perfect Day for Bananafish in 1948.
Pencey Prep was full of phonies, and Holden hated them. He also hated the movies, hated growing up, hated cars, hated a lot of things: “Goddam money,” he said. “It always ends up making you blue as hell.”
But Holden also wanted to catch children from running off a cliff and worried about where the ducks in Central Park went in the wintertime.
Catcher in the Rye was banned in schools and in several countries because Holden drank, swore and visited a prostitute (though he was too depressed to have sex with her). That only increased its appeal to teenagers. British literary critic Ian Hamilton wrote it “become the book all brooding adolescents had to buy, the indispensable manual from which cool styles of disaffectation could be borrowed.”
As Catcher in the Rye earned more notoriety, Salinger withdrew from public view, moving to Cornish, N.H., in 1953. For a time he invited Windsor High School students to his house to play records and talk. Then one student persuaded him to be interviewed for the high school paper. After the interview was published, he cut off all contact with students.
After Catcher in the Rye, Salinger only published three more books: Nine Stories in 1953, Franny and Zooey in 1961 and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.
On the dust jacket to Franny and Zooey 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.
J.D. Salinger died Jan. 27, 2010.
Photo of J.D. Salinger by Washington Post via Wikipedia.