"The worst thing that being an artist could do to you would be that it would make you slightly unhappy constantly."

Happy Birthday, J.D. Salinger!

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J.D. Salinger (January 1, 1919 – January 27, 2010) was an American novelist and author of The Catcher in the Rye, which remains one of the most widely read and culturally significant books about American adolescence. The novel became such an incredible success that it significantly raised Salinger's profile from a novelist to a literary celebrity, to his distaste. Salinger's other notable works, including the story collection Nine Stories, contained a novella and the short story Franny and Zooey. In his later career, Salinger published new works sparsely, and remained quite reclusive until the end of his life.

 

salinger1Jerome David Salinger was born in New York City to Marie and Sol Salinger. Marie changed her name to Miriam, and the young Salinger did not find out that his mother wasn't Jewish until after completing his bar mitzvah. In school, Salinger found it difficult to fit in with his peers at the McBurney School on Park Avenue, and tried to conform by calling himself Jerry, even though his family called him Sonny.

Salinger's parents enrolled him in Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania, and there Salinger began writing stories "under the covers [at night], with the aid of a flashlight." School files reveal, however, that the young author was a mediocre student. He went on to attend New York University briefly before dropping out in the spring, and then did the same at Ursinus College, dropping out after a semester.

In 1939, Salinger attended a Columbia University evening writing class taught by Whit Burnett, editor of Story magazine. According to Burnett, Salinger did not distinguish himself until a few weeks before the end of the second semester, at which point "he suddenly came to life" and completed three stories. Burnett became Salinger's mentor.

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In 1941, Salinger began submitting stories to The New Yorker, all of which were rejected except for one: "Slight Rebellion off Madison", a Manhattan-set story about a disaffected teenager named Holden Caulfield with "pre-war jitters". However, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place during the same month and the story was not published until 1946.

Meanwhile, Salinger was drafted into the Army, and took part in D-Day at Utah Beach as well as the Battle of the Bulge. While overseas, Salinger met and struck up a close friendship with an author he admired, Ernest Hemingway. Salinger wrote Hemingway in July 1946 that their talks were among his few positive memories of the war.

 

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Bananafish was the first of Salinger's stories to feature the Glass family, who featureprominently in his later stories and novellas. In total, he wrote seven stories of the Glass family and its seven children: Seymour, Buddy, Boo Boo, Walt, Waker, Franny, and Zooey.In 1948, after dozens of rejections from the publication, he submitted a short story titled "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" to The New Yorker. The magazine was so impressed with "the singular quality of the story" that its editors accepted it for publication immediately, and signed Salinger to a contract that allowed them right of first refusal on any future stories.

 

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The Catcher in the Rye, featuring troubled protagonist Holden Caulfield, was published in 1951. The novel was a popular success; within two months of its publication, The Catcher in the Rye had been reprinted eight times. It spent thirty weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list.

In the 1970s, several U.S. high school teachers who assigned the book were fired or forced to resign. A 1979 study of censorship noted that The Catcher in the Rye "had the dubious distinction of being at once the most frequently censored book across the nation and the second-most frequently taught novel in public high schools" (after John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men). Since its publication, the book has garnered much attention and controversy for its association with criminals and especially assassination attempts. Perhaps the most famous instance of this is the shooting of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman. Chapman was arrested with his worn personal copy of the book, inside which he had scribbled, "Dear Holden Caulfield, From Holden Caulfield, This is my statement".

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Salinger was given several offers to adapt his book into a film, but he rejected each one. Joyce Maynard, with whom Salinger maintained a romantic relationship for several months, later said: "The only person who might ever have played Holden Caulfield would have been J. D. Salinger."

In 1953, he moved from an apartment at 300 East 57th Street, New York, to Cornish, New Hampshire, where he embarked on a deeply reclusive life as a rejection of his burdensome fame. According to Joyce Maynard, with whom the author became involved when she was 18 and he was 53, Salinger's time in Cornish was spent experimenting with different religions and maintaining a disciplined practice of writing.

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salingerdaughter2 Salinger and his daughter Margaret

According to Maynard, he saw publication as "a damned interruption." In her memoir, his daughter Margaret Salinger describes the detailed filing system her father had for his unpublished manuscripts: "A red mark meant, if I die before I finish my work, publish this 'as is,' blue meant publish but edit first, and so on." According to a neighbor, Salinger was thought to have written 15 unpublished novels.

salingertime Time Magazine, September 15, 1961

Quotes:

"I don't exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it."

"If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she's late? Nobody."

"I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life."

"I love to write and I assure you I write regularly... But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it."

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Wednesday, 01 January 2014
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