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Salinger Hardcover – September 3, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2013: Salinger-ians – those who are obsessed with the fabulously successful and famously reclusive Catcher in the Rye author– will find much to argue about in this oral history by filmmaker Shane Salerno (whose related movie is released September 6) and co-writer David Shields. According to the authors and the dozens of people they interviewed, Salinger was an adolescent-girl-obsessed, religious fanatic who suffered from a kind of lifelong PTSD from his years in WWII as well as an embarrassing (to him) physical deformity; he also, according to the authors, used his reclusiveness to his own advantage, stepping out to the press and public when it suited him and the mythology they contend he at least partially created. But even those who couldn’t care less about “the finest mind ever to stay in prep school,” (Norman Mailer) will find themselves surprisingly engaged: from snippets about Salinger’s thwarted love affair with Eugene O’Neill’s daughter Oona, who dumped him for Charlie Chaplin to a lit-crit lesson on how Mark David Chapman could have possibly read Catcher as a manifesto urging him to kill John Lennon, this book says more than most about the world of writing, celebrity and American culture in the 20th century. --Sara Nelson

From Booklist

Coauthors Shields and Salerno take a much different approach to unveiling the hidden life of J. D. Salinger than Kenneth Slawenski took in his J. D. Salinger (2011). Both books represent nearly a decade of research, and both draw on some of the same material—previously published books on and memoirs about the writer, as well as letters made available since Salinger’s death (Shields and Salerno add years of interviews to the mix). Slawenski constructs a traditional biographical narrative from the stew of secondary sources, while Salerno and Shields present the same stew one bite at a time. In fact, their quasi oral history is the print companion to Salerno’s recently released documentary, also titled Salinger. (The book jacket of this volume proclaims itself “the official book of the acclaimed documentary film,” though early reviews of the production have been almost universally negative.) The book and film follow a roughly chronological track, though the reader emerges with much less of a sense of the flow of Salinger’s life here than in Slawenski’s account. Instead, we get an enormous clip book showcasing the authors’ research: excerpts from hundreds of interviews with people who had some contact with Salinger—and dozens more who had no contact at all but experienced some of the same things Salinger did (mainly WWII) or, in the case of various celebrities, were simply moved by his work. (Do we really need to know what The Catcher in the Rye meant to John Cusack?) But the authors have unearthed some genuinely new material, including interviews with Jean Miller, the first of many teenage girls, on the cusp of adulthood, with whom Salinger had a relationship; more commentary from Salinger’s fellow soldiers and from his close friend Paul Alexander than has been previously published; and new interviews with Joyce Maynard, author of a “Daddy Dearest”–style memoir about her years as one of the author’s teen obsessions. Salinger devotees will find all of this laundry airing either endlessly fascinating or cheap and salacious, depending on their tolerance for laundry. But out of all this material, do Shields and Salerno attempt to make sense of this legendarily hidden and peculiar life? Yes, they do, and while many will find quibbles (the excessive attention, for example, paid to the fact that Salinger had only one testicle), overall their vision of Salinger conforms to much of what we have heard before: an ambitious young man who dreamed of publishing stories in the New Yorker, who went through hell in WWII (D-Day, Huertgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge, Dachau) and who used writing—he worked on Catcher throughout the war—as a kind of meditation, an escape from the horrors of battle; who suffered from 1945 through his death from post-traumatic-stress syndrome, finding that fame was, for him, a new kind of battlefield to find escape from; and who finally did escape from the world by retreating to New Hampshire and by immersing himself in the Hindu philosophy Vedanta. Or, as the authors sum it up, “The war broke him as a man and made him a great artist; religion offered him postwar spiritual solace and killed his art.” It is a consistent point of view, and while certainly an oversimplification, it is well supported by the wealth of commentary included here. What’s lost in all this welter of detail about a troubled man and his peculiar, contradictory life is Salinger’s writing. There are snippets of perceptive analysis from Shields and from some of Salinger’s fellow writers, and there is plenty of connecting the biographical dots (Jean Miller as the model for Esmé in “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor”), but most readers will come away from this book feeling that what’s lost in this messy, muddled hodgepodge of a biography about a messy, muddled life is the precision and clarity of Salinger’s best stories. --Bill Ott
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476744831
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476744834
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (149 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #309,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

137 of 165 people found the following review helpful By A. Royse on September 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I waited all day to be able to curl up in bed with this 'biography.' And then I went to bed utterly and completely disappointed. This is NOT a biography. This is, at best, cut-and-pasted field Notes from so much research that the writers must have finally given up on writing anything. It is source material for someone who wants to write a biography, but is is not a book for someone who wants to read a biography.

It is, LITERALLY (in the old sense of the word, not the new one, which has no meaning) hundreds of pages of quotes, loosely organized around a general theme. There is no attempt at a through-line to paint a complete picture, no connecting the dots, no thought whatsoever.

This book is not written. It's not even really edited. It could best be described as curated, but only barely.

And honestly, if it is even just a transcript of the movie, I am no longer interested in seeing the movie...... Such a disappointment.

Unless what you want is field notes, in which case, this is a gold mine. You just have to do all the digging.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Adam on December 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Readers of fiction often wonder whether an author's personal experiences are woven into his or her stories. Biographies about famous writers are attractive because they reveal those connections. "Salinger" is a comprehensive account of J. D. Salinger's affluent youth, horrific war experiences, publishing achievements, romantic failures, and eventual withdrawal from society. By learning about Salinger's life, readers will come to understand Holden Caulfield and Seymour Glass a good deal better.

This book is not, as some reviewers here have implied, a transcript of the "Salinger" documentary film. At over 700 pages, it goes deeper than any movie could. It contains bibliographies of writings by and about J. D. Salinger, brief biographies of the people quoted in the book, and even descriptive sketches of the fictional Glass family. It does not, unfortunately, have an index,
and it is sometimes difficult to tell in what context a statement was made (such as an interview given specifically for this project, or some other source).

Other reviewers have lamented how the book is comprised of quotation after quotation and does not follow a traditional narrative format. But what better way to learn about Salinger's life than to read firsthand accounts directly from the people who knew him? Instead of reading the biographer's description, let Jean Miller, for example, tell how she met Salinger on the beach when she was fourteen (inspiring his stories "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and "For Esme - With Love and Squalor"). Occasionally, the same stories are told by different voices, although this does not result in monotony, as some reviewers suggest.
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52 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Busy Reader: Get To The Point on September 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I reject this . . . collection of words, for the same reasons stated in the other negative reviews. This is not a book, it's a chaotic, repetitive landfill of fragmentary quotes. You may ask why I wrote my own review, if I agreed with the others. I want to do my part to keep the 1-star count high, so people are fairly warned before they waste time and money on this . . . thing.

The trailer for the associated documentary film flashed in front of me at a theater. It looked exciting. I had read only "Catcher In The Rye," and knew little about Salinger the man. When I saw the book, I clicked on it right away. I wish I had checked the customer reviews first. As stated, you get hundreds of pages of disconnected drivel.

Person 1: When Jerry came back from the war, he never was the same.

Person 2: Something happened to him over there.

Person 3: The Jerry who went to Europe was not the Jerry who came home.

These are not actual quotes, but the text is that shallow. The same banal thoughts are repeated ENDLESSLY. Twenty, thirty, fifty times, a new person says exactly the same thing. I stuck it out to the end, curious to see if the 'authors' would provide any conclusion whatever. They do. In the final chapter, they bring their psychological examination of Salinger to a bombastic, unsupported conclusion. This was almost fun, like watching an Olympic competition for blowhards.

This publication is a horrible mess. Try any other book on Salinger, or just go read Wikipedia, you'll be much better off.

During this excruciating yawnfest, I reflected on a larger phenomenon. People like Salerno and Shields ask, "What was wrong with Salinger? He must have been deeply wounded. If he were healthy, he would welcome our attention.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Nikolai on September 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I began this book with the highest of expectations. It claims to be the definitive biography of J.D. Salinger--chock full of revelations--drawing on hundreds of interviews with Salinger's friends, family, and "inner circle". That's the authors' description, not mine. Flipping through the pages before I began to read, I thought the photos very cool. I also rushed to the account of Jean Miller, who I had just seen on TV, and enjoyed it immensely. Unfortunately, there's not much more I can say in favor of this book. That's probably because I've read all of Salinger's books as well as Salinger biographies ("In Search of Salinger" by Ian Hamilton and "Salinger: A Biography" by Paul Alexander). I've also read "Dream Catcher" written by Salinger's daughter and "At Home in the world" by Joyce Maynard.
My major problem with this book is that it seems to be deliberately deceptive in the information it purports and the haphazard way that information is presented. I found it a cynical insult to readers. Everything is told from the outside looking in, with no consideration that Salinger might have had a point of view. Rumors and innuendo, often supplied by "anonymous sources" void of citation are presented as indisputable facts (Gestapo agents, sexual predilections, and missing testicles to name but a few) and what is passed off as literary analysis of Salinger's writings reads like cheap parody. We are given the deliberate illusion that the authors interviewed all of the people they present, when, in reality, most of the text has been lifted from previous books, interviews, and articles. Some of the speakers have been long dead; still they're allowed to chime in as if they were in the room.
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