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94 of 106 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!
Kenneth Slawenski has almost absorbed JD Salinger by osmosis, the writer becoming part of his breathing out and breathing in. Slawenski's understanding of Salinger is basic, almost on the chromosome level as though he had incorporated Salinger into his genes so that the two of them- biographer and writer - are twin souls. However, Slawenski says in the introduction that...
Published on January 2, 2011 by P. B. Sharp

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81 of 96 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Adoration, but no Joie
Perhaps Kenneth Slawenski loved too much and this obscured his writer's faults from his notice. I didn't really need to have every story synopsized and explained to me. Too much of the book is taken up with that. I wanted more core Salinger, the man.

Slawenski's writing style is like a fond old uncle's remeniscences whose tone is a little flat and complacent...
Published on January 15, 2011 by Zoeeagleeye


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94 of 106 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!, January 2, 2011
This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)
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Kenneth Slawenski has almost absorbed JD Salinger by osmosis, the writer becoming part of his breathing out and breathing in. Slawenski's understanding of Salinger is basic, almost on the chromosome level as though he had incorporated Salinger into his genes so that the two of them- biographer and writer - are twin souls. However, Slawenski says in the introduction that when Salinger died in January 2010, he did not mourn, but gave him a salute. It took Slawenski seven years to write this biography and it can be said to be the horse's mouth as far as Jerome David Salinger is concerned.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is the chapters on World War II. Salinger had enlisted and eventually became a sergeant and this young man from a posh address in New York City stormed the Normandy Beach on D - Day and then spent unspeakable days and nights slogging through mud, crouching in fox holes with the snow coming down on his head but actually taking time when he could to write even in a fox hole. He saw the liberation of Paris but went right back in the fox holes crawling step by step fox hole to fox hole toward Berlin and the Battle of the Bulge. He managed to sneak under darkness into Hemingway's camp as the author was on location as a war correspondent.

And all the while, once even when crouching under a table with his typewriter, trying to avoid mortar shells, Salinger wrote. The war forged his writing and his soul and he was never again the same debonair, rather heedless young man he once was. Slawenski says that Salinger was not writing out of patriotism or with approval of Allied commanders' policies. He was writing for and about the boy next to him and these boys died by the thousands. The war was a baptism in fire.

Salinger lived to be 91 years old, and Slawenski follows him closely throughout his long life, through his three marriages, through his fencing with magazine editors, through the publication of "The Catcher in the Rye", through his withdrawal from public life as he became reclusive and absorbed in Zen Buddhism. And much, much more. This is a very turgid and comprehensive biography.

Catcher hung in the complaisant decade of the fifties rather like an underdone potato. The book was very radical for that era, full of obscenities and adolescent angst which not everybody appreciated or even understood. The book seems to polarize readers, with some loving it, some hating it and nobody effecting a lukewarm middle ground reaction.

But Salinger, in spite of the phenomenal success of Catcher felt the need for isolation far from any people or anything that was phony or pretentious. The farmhouse he bought in Cornish, New Hampshire, was primitive and isolated but not isolated enough. When he brought his second wife, Claire, to live there and he became the father of a baby girl, Margaret, he erected a concrete structure away from the farmhouse where he could write in total seclusion. He even refused an invitation from Jackie Kennedy to visit the White House, which made Clair furious.

Salinger's "Franny and Zooey" was finally published after years of wrangling with publishers and that book may be the writer's magnum opus, not Catcher. Slawenski writes excellent critiques of all of Salinger's works and this biography is particularly helpful in explaining difficult or obscure aspects of Salinger's stories.

"Salinger: A Life" is a page-turner, unusual in a biography. You will feel you got to know the reclusive writer quite well. Salinger would be horrified that his protective shields were torn away but the reader will be delighted to see Salinger naked, so to speak.Slawenski sums up his book thusly:

"By examining the life of JD Salinger, with all its sadness and imperfections...we are charged with the revaluation of our own lives, an assessment of our own connections and the weighing of our own integrity."
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81 of 96 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Adoration, but no Joie, January 15, 2011
By 
Zoeeagleeye (Belfast, ME United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)
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Perhaps Kenneth Slawenski loved too much and this obscured his writer's faults from his notice. I didn't really need to have every story synopsized and explained to me. Too much of the book is taken up with that. I wanted more core Salinger, the man.

Slawenski's writing style is like a fond old uncle's remeniscences whose tone is a little flat and complacent. He skips here and there, then goes back to an earlier memory filled with cliche after cliche. It's not good: "filled with promise," "mantle of leadership," "called into question." How about, "As 1919 dawned people awoke to a fresh new world." You think? Or, "No place was more ready," For what? And this all within the first paragraph! By P. 7 I was lost in the geneology of the family, unable to get them straight due to scrambled writing.

What I disliked more, though, were the many unsupported conclusions and assumptions Slawenski draws. Some are more serious than others. Here's one that is almost a nonsequitur: "But business became his life, and by the time of his thirtieth birthday in 1917, his hair had gone completely 'iron grey.'" Cause and effect? Improbable.

Another example which shows us, I suppose, just how shallow the Salingers were: Slawenski writes that "In the 1920's religion and nationality became increasingly important." As a reaction to this, the Salingers raised their children "with a mixture of lukewarm religious and ethnic traditions." Lukewarm? Explain that, exactly.

There are also contradictions in the book. Slawenski quotes a friend of Salinger's making a negative comment. Then Slawenski chimes in with a positive one, defending Salinger. Doesn't work. His friends say Salinger was "condescending" and "pretentious," and most of his classmates didn't like him. Slawenski goes on to say Salinger was a person of "genuine warmth and veiled sarcasm." Oh? Nobody dislikes someone who is genuinely warm. Plus, a genuinely warm person does not deal in sarcasm -- they are mutually exclusive qualities. Perhaps Salinger was a person of genuine sarcasm and veiled warmth?

Salinger did well in the military and appeared to embrace it to the full. Yet Slawenski says that Salinger "would be loathed to admit it, (the military) perhaps helped him survive those years." Loathed to admit it? Hardly! These constant little assumptions and logical inaccuracies are confusing and irritating.

In short, this biography is full of stats and facts, but none of the aliveness it needs. Conclusions are drawn that don't mesh and those that should be drawn are left alone. For example, Salinger took up the cause against a New York law that, without "mercy" refused parole to those given life imprisonment sentences, saying in his superiorly scathing way that it denies "redemption." Out of this, Slawenski concludes that for Salinger, "salvation was the goal of life." What he fails to notice as Salinger refuses a small publishing favor to his old friend, teacher and mentor, and the man who first published him, Whit Burnett, is Salinger's own lack of mercy, his failure to offer any redemption or salvation to Burnett, not even favoring him with a personal reply after two entreaties. Very cold, indeed.

Some day someone is going to do the real detective legwork and find out more than just what Salinger wanted us to know. You won't find it in this book. BTW, I've read everything Salinger has ever written that I could find. I learned writing by studying his short stories. He is in the top three of my all-time favorite authors. If I expected more from Slawenski, pardon me.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Pretty Good Book, If You Wanna Know the Truth, January 3, 2011
This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)
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Kenneth Slawenski, who has devoted himself to the study of J. D. Salinger's life and works for a decade or more has given us this volume, a combination of biography, opinion, and synopses of Salinger's works. Slawenski is an unabashed admirer of Salinger, as an author and as, it seems, a person. I applaud the fact that he takes this strong stand, although my opinion of Salinger as a person is not as positive as Slawenski's is.

This work is at its best when Slawenski is narrating Salinger's life; I found his treatment of Salinger's time in World War II, which is far more comprehensive than that in previous biographies, quite helpful in explaining the state of mind revealed in Salinger's works. I was less pleased with his summaries and explications of Salinger's works. Slawenski notes that Salinger believed that each reader's own experience with writing was paramount, yet he feels compelled to tell us what moments in many of the works mean. I do also feel that Slawenski lets his admiration for Salinger as a writer blind him to Salinger's flaws as a person. Many of the incidents in the book reveal him to have been a selfish and altogether unpleasant man at times. This is not news, but Slawenski continues to admire Salinger, never admitting that Salinger has behaved badly in any of the episodes.

My reservations in the previous paragraph notwithstanding, I consider this by far the best of the biographies of Salinger produced to date.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, all the David Copperfield, January 14, 2011
This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)
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After the last two flops a decade and two ago on old J.D., about the last thing I wanted to do was read another quasi biography. I mean he having been the great author of my adolescence and all. But his recent death stirred the pot, and so little about him is written in the three dozen or so books I have on the The New Yorker & family, that I let myself take heart from a biographer and scholar I trust, Peter Ackroyd, and give it a try. Right choice.

Salinger's youth and family history are given just enough space without tealeaves or preciousness. Mr. Slawenski tours the events, relationships and circumstances without exaggerating or imagining the importance of every godam fact he bumps into. Although the Oona O'Neill episode was a real eye-opener.

I was especially suspicious of "Salinger a Life" coming out so soon after Salinger's death. But he had already been deep in research some eight years before. He even started a website "DeadCaulfields.com" back in 2004. This guy is no slouch and no ambulance chaser. I forgot my fears by the time Salinger failed out of prep school. Mr. Slawenski met my first challenge, Salinger's education and early influences, with neither speculation nor dalliance.

The second was his war years. After the military academy, I never thought Salinger would join the Army as an enlisted man. Yet that is just what he attempted. Because of its positioning in the book, I must pause here to show how truly tricky Salinger was. Mr. Slawenski refers to a story from about this time "The Long Debut of Lois Taggett", one of the stories rejected by The New Yorker. He remarks that it contained "many oddities (Lois's husband, for example, suffers from a bizarre allergy to colored socks)," Turns out the allergy is not so bizarre. During the 30's and 40's there were lots of ills caused by dyes in food, but closely related problems were also from dyes used for toilet paper and socks. More about socks later.

The reality created by the U. S. government is, in the real sense, bizarre. Not sparing the chance to humiliate Salinger, the Army rejects him as unfit for service. Shortly thereafter, the War Department, as it was then and more honestly titled, drafts him. If they had known that he was already appealing his rejection to the Army, they probably would have put him in a nursing home instead. None of this was lost on Salinger, but I will not spoil for you his responses to the Draft Board questionnaire.

As it happens in the Army, especially during wartime, you are snatched from your cozy and familiar (in his case plush) digs to strange, foreign places. Just so, Salinger was catapulted from the Upper East Side of Manhattan into the depths of New Jersey. For the first time he was in a real mix of real people, not a one from a place he had ever been. Again, not lost on Salinger, it began to provide the grit to halt his long slide of rejections. Not that he was not rejected from the Army's Officer Candidate School. But in another beautiful swath of irony, Salinger is assigned to be an instructor of the officers in the US Army Air Corps Basic Flying School. Not that he knew anything about airplanes.

When his superiors blundered across his newly published stories in the Saturday Evening Post and Colliers, they threw him into PR. No more drills. No more instructing officers. Then some idiot armchair captain noticed. The tin soldier questioned Salinger's loyalty. After all, how more subversive can you get than writing for a rag that sports Norman Rockwell paintings on the cover?

Wait, wait! It gets worse, I mean better. The result of his investigation by military intelligence was to assign him to Counter Intelligence on account of his time in Europe and his knowledge of French and German.

Salinger was in the first or second wave of D-Day landings. His regiment had the highest rate of casualties of any American regiment. June alone claimed 63% of the men and 76% of their officers. He was a sergeant. Their next hardship was spending the late summer and fall in the Hurtgen Forest, against the Siegfried Line. Without food, clothing or hope, they were lost in the forest. Mr. Slawenski is not a military historian, but he instead does a remarkable job of giving us the soldiers' point of view, just as Salinger did. He was aided by Salinger's own unpublished work from this period.

More about the socks, this time is the winter of deep wet and cold. Salinger's mother had been knitting him woolen socks. It was wool that wicked away the wet from feet. Cotton soaks it in. Thus was he spared the agony of trench foot, or worse; the hobbled soldier made easy game.

Our trusty author relates, without envy or rancor, the episode where Salinger hears that his new friend from his few Paris days was encamped but a mile from him. He makes his way from his nasty foxhole over what turns out to be a cabin, complete with electricity and with Papa Hemingway extending him a canteen full of champagne.

Returning to the cynical, Salinger's combat status did wonders for his literary career. As if by magic, or by trivial rectification of a misplaced check mark, rejected stories got themselves into print. He was now exploitable. So he became a publisher's pain in the ass. No fluff, no hype, no sizzle. He would have none of it. Just look at the covers of his books. Mr. Slawenski deftly points to an illuminating point in a Salinger piece from the period when Holden Caulfield drops his marbles in the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Great solemn rooms, the long quiet shattered by the bouncing of beautiful glass marbles on the real marble floor. Perfect.

In "A Boy in France", the character Gabe notes that the Kraut blanket in the foxhole he was about to inhabit was wool. Other blankets were just blankets. This one echoes, like the socks. Salinger mastered the tiny touch. In that same story, he has Gabe's letter from his girl (her "Babe", as she calls him, is just one letter away) misspell "Women's Army Air Corps" (WAC) abbreviation as "Wacks". It just about makes your laugh into a cry.

Biography then takes something of a back seat during Salinger's golden score years, marked by his acceptance at last by The New Yorker late 1947. We tour these decades through a nice appreciation of his major works. Mr. Slawenski fairly shines here. He has a fine ear and mind's eye. He makes helpful and well-founded connections between life and literature. He resists the tendencies that make so many sympathetic biographers into sycophants. He shows Salinger off without babying him or venerating him. He handles the artistic, the critical challenge of Salinger competently and in high relief. Of special interest to me, Salinger's "Zooey" was carefully and relentlessly edited by the greatest editor America has ever known, The New Yorker's William Shawn. I have always taken this piece to be Salinger's masterpiece and now I know why. Shawn did for Salinger what Nelson Riddle did for Frank Sinatra.

I like Mr. Slawenski's sense of balance, of proportion. He gives every subject due care and due place. He dutifully takes care of Salinger's post publishing life neatly and fairly. Long in duration for Salinger, it is a short final section in this book. In so doing he meets and clears the final challenge, the treatment of the Joyce Maynard affair. After reading her debut article the Sunday it was first published in The New York Times Magazine, I looked forward to her coming work after college. Instead, when I bought her first "novel", I found only craven and creepy pornography. It was perverse, violent stuff. I was disappointed, but it was a perfect preface to her assault on Salinger.

Just a year ago was his 91st and last birthday. This is a fitting book to reprise all of him again, which is about all there is to do now anyway.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kenneth Slawenski HEART's J.D. Salinger, March 27, 2011
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This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)
I was reading a copy of Vanity Fair, and it has a wonderful excerpt from a soon to be published book by Kenneth Slawenski, J.D. Salinger: A Life. [...]

The story was fantastic. J.D. Salinger was a great American. A hero that was an Army Sergeant. Slawenski documents and delivers the amazing story of Salinger invading Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, and even meeting Ernest Hemingway in Europe, at the Ritz, and the Hurtgen Forest.

It was even more compelling to imagine how during World War II, Salinger continued to write short stories, and developed Holden Caulfield, and his first novel, Catcher in the Rye. The Vanity Fair excerpt of this biography of Salinger made me race to my computer, log on to Amazon, and pre-order J.D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski.

Mr. Slawenski has written a biography about an American author, and it is clear on every page that Mr. Slawenski is Salinger's greatest fan. The book is well written. It is well edited. It primarily focuses on the couple dozen short stories Salinger published, and his four novels. Mr. Slawenski details a story, and then explains where and what Salinger was doing at that time.

The book begins to feel more like an acedemic paper that researches J.D. Salinger's body of work, rather then J.D. Salinger, a man, a parent, a lover, a recluse. Most intimate details are of his time serving our Country as an Army Intelligence NCO.

It may be crass, but honestly, I wanted more personal details. Call it more gossip, if you will. More interviews with friends, family. Mr. Slawenski never mentions the FACT that Salinger's daughter Margaret published a book about herself and her father. Dream Catcher: A Memoir Slawenski's biography does not touch on this historic and unusual fact, or how it impacted their father-daughter relationship. Was she removed from the will? What about his current and ex-wives. Where is Salinger's son Matthew Salinger? Salinger was a hermit, and he impacts Americans to this day, through a single novel, Catcher in the Rye. Who was he, and how was he perceived by people that knew him?

I believe that if Salinger were alive, and did read J.D. Salinger: A Life (even though he was handled with kid gloves), he would still despise it, and feel like he was being victimized by Kenneth Slawenski. Even though this book was gentle and kind toward Mr. Salinger, J.D. was still impossible to like at the end of it. Even more disappointing was he was difficult to understand. He was portrayed unevenly. To much space was spent on his writing and submissions to the New Yorker. When he stopped writing, around 1961, the book virtually ends. This is the Salinger I want to learn more about, as I have read all his books.

I respect the work that was put into this book. It is impossible not to feel the regard Kenneth Slawenski has for J.D. Salinger on every page of this biography. I DO NOT like reading a biography, then to learn details, I have to Wiki or Google impact characters in Salinger's life, like his children Matthew and Margaret.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and enjoyable, February 2, 2011
By 
Y. Scott (Lexington, MA, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)
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I never liked "The Catcher in the Rye". My family know it and they teased me when they saw me reading this book. I joked back "I just want to confirm my negative feeling." In truth, I just wanted to know why I had such a negative feeling toward his works.

I didn't find out why I didn't like Salinger's works, but I enjoyed reading Slawenski's biography. I especially loved the first 200 pages or so. Slawenski explains the most of Salinger's great works were formed during his work as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army in France and Germany. Which was eye-opening and quite convincing. Slawenski gives readers very sympathetic view of the mysterious author. At least the first part of the book made me want to re-read his books.

Even though it's apparent Slawenski loves and admires Salinger, you could see he tried to be fair. It's clear to the readers that Salinger was a terrible husband and egoistic person. Unfortunately, Slawenski didn't go far enough. He mentioned Joyce Maynard, who dropped out Yale University to live with Salinger for nearly a year, only briefly. That should be discussed more than some of the short stories Slawenski spent a couple of pages.

If you expect to find some new materials which came out after Salinger's death, you'll be disappointed. But, as a biography, it's quite comprehensive and well done. I recommend it.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, January 28, 2013
By 
CJA "CJA" (Minneapolis, MN) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Paperback)
Slawenski does a very good job of culling through what little there is of the documentary record of Salinger's life, in the process making a convincing case that Salinger's brutal combat experience in Europe changed his life and thinking. What's missing is any interviews with friends and family (or Salinger himself) -- but that's not really Slawenski's fault given Salinger's zealous reclusiveness. Slawenski should also be credited for writing an engaging narrative that gives enough information to allow ther reader to form his/her own conclusions about the elusive Salinger.

Three major flaws plague the book, and it's clear that the definitive Salinger biography remains to be written. First, Slawenski is too much a fan of Salinger. He simply ignores the extremely unflattering accounts of Salinger written by Salinger's daughter and by his young lover, Joyce Maynard. While there is no reason to accept either account uncritcally, Slawenski should at least address those accounts and explain what should or should not be credited. These are, after all, important sources about the many years Salinger spent in seclusion. One gets the sense that Slawenski simply wants to ignore unpleasantness and that he is too quick to accept Salinger's image as the guru and sage who lives a good contemplative life after he stopped publishing in 1965. My own impression is that Salinger was mentally ill and that his illness worsened the more he cut himself off from the world.

Second, Slawenski assumes too direct a connection between Salinger's life experiences and his writing. Of course, an author must write about what he knows. But Slawenski is a bit too breezy in simply assuming (and not demonstrating) such a direct connection.

Third, Slawenski's literary critcism is disappointing. He is not an academic and tends to write book reports that repeat the plot in detail and that posit more didactic messages than were probably intended by Salinger. Slawenski simply states, without argument or citation to any critic, that Franny & Zooey was Salinger's magnum opus. I thought it was a piece of crap, though it's been a while since I read it, and I was probably just disappointed given the greatness of Salinger's earlier works. Is there really a better 20th Century American novel or short story than the Catcher in the Rye and For Esme? I don't think so. But very few critics or readers would put Salinger's later work in the same category.

Indeed, I suspect that all the unpublished writing done in the last 45 years of Salinger's life was garbage. I had always hoped that Salinger was producing masterpieces during his seclusion and that they'd all emerge after his death. There does not appear to be much prospect of that. Slawenski does not offer any insight into the terms of Salinger's literary will or whether we will even see anything published and when -- and whether it will be any good. The great tragedy of Salinger is that he cut himself off from others and went the Zen guru route instead of publishing the great novel of World War II. There are some interesting books written by American veterans of World War II -- Catch 22, The Naked and the Dead, Slaughterhouse Five, The Thin Red Line. But none of these books is truly great. I think Salinger had a great book about World War II left in him, but he never wrote it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Detailed Biography, September 28, 2011
This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)
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"J. D. Salinger: A Life" is an incredibly detailed account of the life and work of J.D. Salinger. As someone who has read and enjoyed many of Salinger's stories, I was anxious to learn more about the man. I had always heard stories that he was aloof and enigmatic. I didn't realize the full extent of his eccentricities though. Kenneth Slawenski takes a very deep dive into Salinger's life. If you are only casually curious about Salinger's life, then this biography will probably be too in-depth for you. If you are a student, you will find more info on Salinger here than anywhere else. The only caveat for students is that the biography's author obviously adores Salinger. Slawenski's account of Salinger's life tends to be a slobbering love affair.

Fair enough. He obviously spent years researching and documenting Salinger's life. He deserves to enjoy the subject of his labor.

Slawenski provides three types of content in his biography:

First, he tells Salinger's life story. At times it feels like he hasn't left out one single detail of the author's life. Salinger's life story is fascinating enough to hold the reader's interest though. For example, Salinger's experience on D-Day landing at Normandy and the months that followed the invasion changed him forever.

Secondly, he tells the story of Salinger's work. The stories behind the stories are sometimes gripping and sometimes arduous. The amount of work and rework required to publish some of these stories is heart breaking. If you're interested in this process, then you will enjoy Slawenski's level of detail. If you're a casual reader, you might be turned off by seeing how the literary sausage is really made.

Finally, Slawenski provides analyses of most of Salinger's works. Of course these analyses are subjective, but they are well thought out and will prove helpful to students.

Although the subject matter was occasionally dry, I was eager to learn more about Salinger and Slawenski kept his account moving along. Slawenski's retelling of Salinger's life and work didn't change my high opinion of the stories I've already read, but it did show me the other side--the man behind the literature. This is where things turned sad for me, because I've always loved Salinger's stories so much. But after reading this biography, I've come to strongly dislike Salinger as a man. He was a horrible husband and father, which is my highest measure of a man. Salinger became fascinated by the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta. This fascination became a preoccupation that impacted his writing, his career, and of course his family life.

I'm still glad I read the story of Salinger's life. I wish it had a happier ending for his family though.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's basically hagigraphy (make Salinger appear the saint he wasn't), February 18, 2011
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This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)
I teach Salinger among other books to high schoolers and am a fan of Salinger's works. I strongly recommend you read the review of this book by world-class John Cheever biographer, Blake Bailey. The article is on Slate and called "For Salinger, With Love: Kenneth Slawenski's biography offers a bowdlerized life." The date of it is Monday, Jan. 31, 2011.

It is a very negative review and I agree with his words. This book is NOT serious biography to be trusted as true. At all.

Also you can find radio shows online where interviewers take Slawenski to task on some of these aspects (like where are the claimed countless interviews) of his book.

I will quote a fair-use portion of the Bailey piece here:

'But Slawenski can't even be bothered to avoid howlers that are eminently avoidable in the Internet age. For example, while discussing the rumor that Thomas Pynchon (also reclusive) and Salinger are one and the same, Slawenski points out that "Pynchon's first publication had appeared in the New York Times Magazine in 1965, the same year Salinger had retired." Pynchon's first novel, V., was published in 1963--two years before that Times Magazine credit--and nominated for a National Book Award; anyway, he'd been publishing stories since the '50s.'

Slawenski doesn't get some things right, and his research, from my professional point of view as a teacher/xemi-scholar, is not very existent. And he loves Salinger a bit too much in my opinion to write an objective piece.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A biographer who almost "catches" his subject, November 22, 2012
This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)
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This is one of two biographies made available via the Vine program that I recently read. The other is Robert Massie's Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. They have been widely reviewed and generally praised. I realize that my reviews of them are late to the proverbial "party."

In my opinion, here is what they share in common and where there are differences:

1. Their authors rely on a wealth of reputable sources, all duly cited. Given the nature and extent of Salinger's efforts to protect his privacy, however, this was a much greater challenge for Slawenski.

2. Those who read these books will probably learn about as much as they want and need to know about the subject. Whereas there is a wealth of biographical material that focuses on Catherine, however, there is relatively much less concerning Salinger for the reason just cited.

3. Their authors write very well. For example, the presentation of the material flows smoothly. True, Massie and Slawenski have quite different writing styles and historical perspectives but both proceed through the material with remarkable dexterity.

In her article for The New York Times (Monday, February 1, 2010), Katie Zezima shares what she learned from conversations with Salinger's friends and neighbors.

1. He was a regular at the Windsor Diner (VT) near Cornish, and, at the weekly ($12 roast beef, all-you-can eat) dinners at First Congregational Church in nearby Heartland, VT.

2. He was among the rare patrons of the dinners who tipped the local high school students who waited on tables.

3. Salinger and his wife, Colleen O'Neil "were very generous" to the town of Cornish according to Keith L. Jones, a selectman and owner of Cornish Automotive. Until recently, he attended all town meetings held in the Cornish Elementary School.

4. O'Neil has been an active preservationist and is widely renowned as "a blue ribbon quilter."

5. When anyone arrived in Cornish determined to know where Salinger lived, they received bogus directions. Instead of finding the home, interlopers would end up on a wild goose chase. "How far afield the directions went `depended on how arrogant they were,' said Mike Ackerman, owner of the Cornish General Store. Mr. Salinger, he said, "was like the Batman icon. Everyone knew Batman existed, and everyone knows there's a batcave, but no one will tell you where it is."

Salinger was not a hermit or even a recluse. How refreshing to encounter a person of substantial renown who avoids attracting attention, who respects everyone else's privacy and expects others to respect his. That seems eminently reasonable to me.

Other reviewers already have (by now) covered most of the main points to be made. I now share these:

1. Until reading this book, I really had no clear sense of Salinger the human beings. Details such as his enjoyment of church dinners bring to life (at least to some extent) the dour face in only a limited number of photographs.

2. Having taught Catcher in the Rye for more than 20 years in prior lives, I assumed that Holden was (at least to a great extent) a persona for Salinger. True, all characters or at least most characters have at least some autobiographical element in their DNA. However, Salinger is far more interesting than Holden or any of Salinger's other characters...and far less accessible.

3. After I read this biography, I wanted to call up Salinger. This is the first time since I first read Catcher in the Rye (1961) that I wanted to do so. That may not be significant to anyone else but it is certainly very significant to me.

I rate Kenneth Slawenski Five Stars on all counts.
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J. D. Salinger: A Life
J. D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski (Hardcover - 2010)
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