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.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. After nearly a decade™s research and Slawenski™s obvious empathy with his reclusive subject™s search for emotional and philosophical equilibrium, this exemplary biography will be released on the first anniversary of J.D. Salinger™s death. It™s a highly informative effort to assess the arc of Salinger™s career, the themes of his fiction, and his influence on 20th-century American literature. Born in 1919, indulged by his mother while growing up on Park Avenue, Salinger was a bored and indifferent student. He eventually found a mentor in legendary Columbia professor Whit Burnett, who encouraged him to work on the pieces that became The Catcher in the Rye even while Salinger was serving in WWII Europe. Slawenski emphasizes that Salinger™s wartime experience, from D-Day to the liberation of Dachau, œwas the traumatic turning point in his life, influencing the sense of futility that permeates his early work. Salinger™s salvation, Slawenski demonstrates, came through his acceptance of Vedatic Buddhism, and he argues persuasively that Salinger came to consider writing an aspect of meditation, a task that demanded solitude and perfect control over the presentation of his fiction. The celebrity surrounding the publication of Catcher in the Rye in 1951 activated the split between his striving for asceticism and the demands of the outside world. Slawenski describes Salinger™s three marriages, records his contentious relationships with his publishers, his special relationship with the New Yorker, and Slawenski™s assiduous research allows him to identify and assess many obscure and unpublished stories. In total, an invaluable work that sheds fascinating light on the willfully elusive author. B&w photos. (Jan. 25)
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