J.D. Salinger started out like many other writers. He wrote stories for his creative writing classes, sought publication in the big-name magazines, and got rejected time and again. He kept scribbling, and soon the successes started piling up—recognition from big-time editors and critics, and publication in all the right places. He sold the rights of his stories to Hollywood and was horrified when they butchered his prose. Then he really hit it big with a book called The Catcher in the Rye, which gave a voice to adolescent angst in a way no other book had. He followed it up with stories and novellas about a precocious clan known as the Glass family. His books went on to sell millions of copies.
And then he stopped. When many writers would have been more than happy to luxuriate in their hard-earned fame and fortune, Salinger left New York City and moved to a quiet New Hampshire town for a different kind of luxury—privacy. He declined interviews, associated with few people, and went so far as to sue people who attempt to publish books about his life. His last published work was a story in The New Yorker in 1965. He continued writing right up to the end of his life, but no longer for public consumption. "There is a marvelous peace in not publishing," Salinger said during an extremely rare interview in 1974. "It's peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure."1
What right did we have to deny him that pleasure? Some of facts of Salinger's life are presented here (at least the ones he's let us learn). But rather than worry too much about the specifics of the writer's life, maybe we should concentrate more on what he wrote. Sometimes fiction tells more truths than the details of reality. "Whatever its shortcomings, The Catcher in the Rye is from the heart—not Holden Caulfield's heart, but Jerome David Salinger's," a sharp critic once wrote. "He said everything he had to say in it, which may well be why he has said nothing else."2