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Salinger: A Biography Paperback – July 14, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-1580631488 ISBN-10: 1580631487 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Renaissance Books; 1 edition (July 14, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580631487
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580631488
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,113,299 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

So averse to any kind of publicity that he went to court to prevent a previous biography, J.D. Salinger will undoubtedly be distressed by this book as well, especially since author Paul Alexander suggests that the writer's reclusiveness might be just a shrewd ploy to pique readers' interest and maintain good sales for his books. The Catcher in the Rye hardly needs that kind of help; the novel has been hugely popular since its initial release in 1951, though even then Salinger found the publication process distasteful. What made him abnormally sensitive to the stresses of public life? Readers won't find out here, although Alexander capably narrates the scant biographical material available: Salinger's birth in 1919; his aimless, academically underachieving youth; military service in some of World War II's grimmest battles; two failed marriages; self-exile from publishing at the height of his fame; the 1973 affair with teenage writer Joyce Maynard; and her arguably revengeful 1998 memoir. It would probably please Salinger that the psychological forces that power his creativity and eccentricity remain a mystery. Alexander notes the writer's near-exclusive focus on young people in his fiction, as well as the fact that Salinger's romantic relations have almost all been with very young women, but he can't really explain these facts. There just isn't enough information, although some enjoyably gossipy quotes from various interviews (ranging from usual literary suspects like George Plimpton to Salinger's former housekeeper) keep the book quite readable. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

This biography's dustjacket features a blurry photo of an aging J.D. Salinger superimposed on a picture of the young author of The Catcher in the Rye. While designed to capture the elusive quality of the notoriously reclusive writer, the jacket also reflects the book's fuzziness and skimpy feel. Although Alexander, who wrote a biography of Sylvia Plath, interviewed a number of people and used the research files of Ian Hamilton (In Search of J.D. Salinger) and the newly opened New Yorker archive at the New York Public Library, the result is primarily a cut-and-paste pastiche of secondary sources. This is not entirely Alexander's fault; like Hamilton, whose attempt to publish a biography was thwarted in the courts by Salinger, Alexander was unable to quote directly from Salinger's letters, and of course the man himself has long refused to be interviewed. Still, Alexander has drawn an eerie portrait of an increasingly eccentric writer whose attempts to maintain his privacy is actuallyAin Alexander's opinionAa manipulative way of promoting himself and his books.AWilda Williams, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Paul Alexander is the author of Salinger: A Biography, the basis of Shane Salerno's much anticipated feature documentary Salinger to be released in theatres by the Weinstein Company in September before appearing on American Masters on PBS in the spring.

Alexander is the editor of the essay collection Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath and the author of Rough Magic, a biography of Plath; Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The Life, Times, and Legend of James Dean, a bestseller that has been published in ten countries; Death and Disaster: The Rise of the Warhol Empire and the Race For Andy's Millions; Man of the People: The Life of John McCain; The Candidate, a chronicle of John Kerry's presidential campaign; and Machiavelli's Shadow: The Rise and Fall of Karl Rove. He is the author of the bestselling Kindle Singles Murdered, Accused, and Homicidal. His latest e-book, Mistried, was published by Rosetta Books.

A former reporter for Time, Alexander has published nonfiction in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Globe, New York, The Nation, The Village Voice, Salon, Worth, The New York Observer, George, Cosmopolitan, More, Interview, ARTnews, Mirabella, Premiere, Out, The Advocate, Travel & Leisure, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Biography, Men's Journal, Best Life, The New York Review of Books, The Huffington Post, and Rolling Stone. In Europe, his journalism has appeared in Paris Match, Gente, and The Guardian. He contributes to The Daily Beast.

Alexander wrote Good Night, Dorothy Kilgallen, an original screenplay about Kilgallen's investigation of the Kennedy assassination, for Twentieth Century Fox. He is the author of the plays Strangers in the Land of Canaan and Edge, which he directed. Developed at The Actors Studio, Edge, the one-woman play about Sylvia Plath, ran in New York, where Angelica Page received an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination; London; and venues in other cities, among them Miami, where New Times named Page Best Actress. Edge toured Australia and New Zealand and enjoyed a second run in New York. In all, Page performed Edge 400 times. Alexander is the director of a British revival of Ariel Dorfman's play Death and the Maiden; New York Stories, an evening of one-act plays by Paul Manuel Kane that ran in New York; and Brothers in Arms, a documentary feature film about John Kerry and Vietnam (First Run Features).

Alexander holds a BA in English and Creative Writing from The University of Alabama and an MFA from The Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has taught at the University of Houston, Long Island University, The City University of New York, and Hofstra University. Memberships include PEN American Center, the Authors Guild, and the Playwrights and Directors Unit of The Actors Studio. In the fall of 2002, he was a Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In January 2013, he appeared at the Key West Literary Seminar as part of the Writers on Writers series.

Customer Reviews

And I do feel that people have been too soft on Salinger.
Hapworth
I would recommend it highly to anyone with an interest in Salinger and his work.
G. McKenzie
This book is very poorly done for so many reasons, but I will list just one.
Joe Murray

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Ted Watanabe on December 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Paul Alexander, the author of this biography, may have a genuine admiration for J.D. Salinger, but he clearly has no true understanding of the man. This biographer's approach to Salinger's life more closely resembles a tabloid publication's expose of a pedophile priest. Aside from the differences that any group of people can have over the interpretation of any story, it seems apparent that Alexander has no clear understanding of the classic literature that Salinger loved. He lists the authors that Salinger admired, yet doesn't seem to have an awareness of the works and how they're integrated into many of Salinger's stories. The most horrifying revelation of this biography, for me, is the realization that many people especially this biographer have misinterpreted the story "Teddy." Salinger chooses his words and titles painstakingly carefully for a reason. Alexander's conclusions (as well as the public's), that Teddy kills his sister in the story, shows either his lack of awareness of what's going on or maybe he never read the story. Eventhough, the story "Teddy" was extremely successful, Salinger's disappointment to the public's reaction of the story is apparent in his story character's and alter ego, Buddy Glass', comments in "Seymour an Introduction," " ... few years ago, I published an exceptionally Haunting, Memorable, unpleasantly controversial, and thoroughly unsucessful short story about a 'gifted' little boy... " These comments alone shows Salinger's disappointment in the fact that "people just don't get it." Though, Salinger needs no defenders, I believe his fascination with young people (including and especially young women) manifests from a pure source.Read more ›
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By W. C HALL VINE VOICE on October 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
Many of those who have commented on this work find author Paul Alexander to be hostile to his subject. That's not my read of it; to me, he seems more to be puzzled and saddened by the way Salinger has chosen to live his life. It could be argued that Alexander doesn't really understand Salinger; but can anyone really claim otherwise?

With Salinger, his family and past associates unwilling to cooperate on any kind of biography, Alexander has had to make do with the rather skimpy public record the world's most famous recluse has left behind. He seems to have put together as full a life story as possible, given these limitations. The perception of hostility may come from the fact that Alexander quotes extensively from the reaction of critics to Salinger's work--and sadly, for those who love it (including this reviewer)--the majority of the critics were negative about it. And Salinger's hostility to most of those in the publishing world is well-documented.

Perhaps Alexander's most intriguing contention is that Salinger, for all his public protestations of a desire to be left alone, actually wants the attention he generates. He says it's kind of a cat-and-mouse game with the public designed to maintain interest in his works.

If you're interested in learning as much detail as you can about Salinger's childhood, education, romances, buisiness dealings, and the like, this is probably the best book we'll have for some time.--William C. Hall
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
This biography presents a decent chronicle of the external facts of Salinger's life -- the timeline of writing his stories, his family ties, war experience, marriages. But when the author trys to string these facts together into a narrative by offering us his interpretation of the facts, one can't help but wince. He just doesn't get Salinger at all. As one reviewer already noted (see below), P.Alexander failed to understand that the wise child Teddy (in the story "Teddy") foresaw his death but accepted his fate calmly because he was unafraid of death. The scream of Teddy's sister is her horror at realizing that she had pushed him inadvertently to his death. Alexander's interpretations similarly slaughter the rest of Salinger's stories. It is no wonder that Salinger runs and cringes when he sees these journalists descending upon his house. {"Tell me, Mr Salinger, why did Teddy kill his sister?" "Why does Franny have to sit on a toilet in the restroom to cry?")
The journalists/public know Salinger wants privacy; they invade his privacy; Salinger tries to hide, and the journalists become incensed at Salinger's (!) rudeness and get even by spinning sneering interpretations of his life and art.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
Usually, when I am about to write a review here, and I see
that others have made points I intend to make, I just forget
it. But it seems most appropriate for the point to be repeated
that this book is horrendous, syllable by syllable. Another writer says it shouldn't have been published, and that's a shrewd and exacting assessment. If not for the fact that the sense of debasement that such a master as Salinger suffers if palpable, there's also the issue of editorial scruples: doesn't this publishing house employ editors? Yes, Alexander's prose is poor (why did someone give him an MFA?). But it also includes grammatical mistakes and basic flaws in thinking and logic. Some sentences are repeated, a clear editing snaffoo. He often draws inferences that are unfounded or remarks on some coincidence or set of circumstances that he deems titillating or telling when these can be so easily dismissed.
The main problem is Alexander's infantile way of setting up a
simple dichotomy: Salinger either is a recluse at heart or
is trying to maintain prestige and import by remaining hidden. Is there nothing in between? Are people sure of their own motivations. Ultimately, the idea of thirty years of isolation as publicity stunt is hopelessly naive and insipid. It doesn't make sense and it looks at a man with a mind as great as Salinger's in an untenable fashion.
Also, there's the story of a newspaper article a girl published in a daily paper after telling S. it was for a school paper. This is a rumor, and Alexander's source is simply another magazine feature. This is one cardinal example of the flaw in writing a biography without doing research. Yes, Salinger is a tough ticket, but why didn't Alexander check out this story with those who knew S.
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