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J. D. Salinger: A Life Hardcover – January 25, 2011
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover) I just finished reading Slawenski's JDS bio.Read more