J.D. Salinger did not want you to read this biography. In the half-century after he published his masterpiece The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger became almost as well-known for his fiercely-guarded privacy as for his book about the prep school dropout who hates phonies and loves to swear. Salinger—who passed away at the age of 91 on 28 January 2010—never published anything new after 1965. He shunned publicity, didn't give interviews, and was known to point a shotgun at people who got too close to his New Hampshire home. His aversion to the spotlight, however, did nothing to dim his legacy as one of the most unique literary voices of the twentieth century.
Salinger wrote literature all of his life, but published only between the years of 1940 and 1965. Nearly all of his stories focus on young people—their frustration, wisdom, optimism, and rage. He created the Glass family, a fictional clan of seven siblings whose exploits were the subject of novellas and short stories, collected in books like Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories. Most memorably, he created Holden Caulfield, the inimitable protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger's only full-length novel has sold 65 million copies worldwide and become a classic, handed down by generations of teachers and parents who hope that a new generation will find the inspiration they once did in Holden's howls of outrage. We hope that you do too.
The Catcher in the Rye is on Time magazine's list of the All-Time 100 Novels (which, technically, is a list of the top 100 novels written since 1923, in English. Still, it's a big accomplishment.)
Holden Caulfield's constant worrying about the status of Central Park's ducks in the winter is apparently contagious. The Central Park Conservancy fields frequent questions about this topic from recent Catcher in the Rye readers. "People are always calling and asking, 'Where do the ducks go?" conservancy historian Sara Cedar Miller told a newspaper in 2009. "I say, 'Did you just finish reading 'The Catcher in the Rye'? The answer is always yes." (For the record, they migrate to warmer climates, just like any other ducks).
Mark David Chapman, the man who assassinated John Lennon in 1980, was obsessed with The Catcher in the Rye. He brought the book with him to the murder scene and read a few pages while waiting for the police. He later released a statement that said, "The reason I killed John Lennon was to promote the reading of J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye."
The New Yorker rejected The Catcher in the Rye when Salinger offered it to them in story form. Editors told him the Caulfield children sounded too precocious and the writing was too "clever."
Salinger briefly dated Oona O'Neill, the daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill, who was a teenager at the time. She dumped him for Charlie Chaplin, whom she eventually married.
Holden Caulfield's cursing habit and frank talk about sex has made The Catcher in the Rye> one of the most frequently banned books of the last fifty years.
In contrast with the reclusive lifestyle he chose for his adult years, J.D. Salinger was a bit of a ham as a kid. When he was eleven years old, the boys at Camp Wigwam in Maine voted him "the most popular actor of 1930."
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
Salinger's first and only full-length novel is the one that made him famous. Crass, hypochondriac, sensitive, and suffering, Holden Caulfield is one of American literature's most enduring characters. Everyone is required to read this book before graduating from, well, life. If you don't, you're a goddamn phony.
J.D. Salinger, Nine Stories (1953)
This book contains exactly what the title says it does—nine short stories, seven of which had already been published, and two that had never been. Salinger's second book introduces us to the Glass family, the talented tribe of precocious children who populate his later fiction. It also contains the story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," which made The New Yorker first sit up and pay attention to this fresh, emerging writer.
J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey (1961)
This book consists of two long stories, one about Franny Glass, the other about her sister Zooey Glass. Critics didn't love the book when it first came out, but some reviewers now believe the stories to be among his best work. For Salinger fans, the saga of the Glass family is always a compelling one.
Ian Hamilton, In Search of J.D. Salinger (1988)
Biographer Ian Hamilton went searching for J.D. Salinger; what he found instead was a lawsuit. Salinger resisted Hamilton's attempts to profile him for the book and, when Hamilton discovered a cache of the writer's old letters in university archives, Salinger sued to prevent him from using them in the book. In the end, Hamilton was allowed to paraphrase but not quote the material. After finishing the book, Hamilton remarked that the next time he wrote a biography, "The subject would have to be very, very dead."_CITATION22_
Joyce Maynard, At Home in the World (1998)
In 1972, young writer Joyce Maynard published an autobiographical essay in The New York Times Magazine. She then began to exchange letters with Salinger, who initiated the correspondence, and they soon became lovers. Maynard was 18 and Salinger was 53. We don't imagine he was particularly happy when she decided to describe the details of their affair in this memoir.
Margaret A. Salinger, Dream Catcher (2000)
J.D. Salinger stopped speaking to his daughter after he learned that she was planning to write this memoir. Margaret Salinger describes her father as an odd duck who was suspicious of doctors, controlling of their mother, and prone to following new, esoteric religions. (For the record, Margaret's brother Matt has publicly refuted his sister's account of their childhood.)
Igby Goes Down Soundtrack
The movie has been called a modern-day version of The Catcher in the Rye. The songs that director Burr Steers chose to accompany his film perfectly capture that sense of alienation and frustration so familiar to fans of Holden Caulfield.
Green Day, "Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?"
Green Day's song is a shout-out in honor of our favorite literary character who is just on the edge of flunking out of life. If only we could remember who wrote about that guy…
We are fans of anyone who turns to literature to name their band, which we hope was the case with New York band, Seymour Glass. Come to think of it, Holden Caulfield would also make a great name for a band. (Never mind, someone has already done it: http://www.myspace.com/holdencaulfield.)
Guns N' Roses, "The Catcher in the Rye"
Guns N' Roses released their long-awaited album Chinese Democracy in 2008. The album contained the single "The Catcher in the Rye." And honestly, who better to sing about Holden Caulfield's pain and alienation than Axl Rose?
When Holden hams it up for Stradlater in The Catcher in the Rye, he does an impression of an amateur tap dancer who fills in at the Zeigfield Follies. Holden, Stradlater, and everybody else at Pencey would definitely have known about the Follies, a famous variety act that ran from 1907 to 1931.
Slaughter on Tenth Avenue
An A-list roster of composers, including Leonard Bernstein and Richard Rodgers, wrote the music for this 1936 jazz ballet. No wonder Stradlater couldn't whistle it to save his life.
A portrait of the artist.
The cover of Margaret Salinger's memoir—a photo of the author and her dad.
J.D. Salinger, Courtesy of the Paparazzi
A paparazzi photo of the reclusive writer, who is not at all happy about being photographed at that moment.
An illustration of the writer for the cover.
The Catcher in the Rye
First-edition book cover.
First-edition dust jacket.
My Foolish Heart (1949)
This terrible movie is the reason that there are no other film versions of Salinger's stories. Though the movie claims to be based on Salinger's short story "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut," it veers so far from the original plot that it's hard to see how the two are related. Salinger was so appalled that he has never allowed any other film adaptation of his work.
The 39 Steps (1935)
In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden's kid sister Phoebe likes this French film so much she knows "the whole goddamn movie by heart." According to his daughter's memoir, it is also one of Salinger's favorite movies.
Iranian filmmaker Darioush Mehrjui directed this movie, which is loosely based on the plot of Franny and Zooey. Much to Mehrjui's shock and dismay, Salinger sued to block its showing at Lincoln Center in New York. He can't stop you from watching it on DVD, though!
Field of Dreams (1989)
James Earl Jones plays Terrence Mann, a reclusive yet brilliant writer whose book is banned at the local high school for profanity. The character is based on J.D. Salinger. Shmoop was unable to determine whether Salinger has ever actually been kidnapped in order to help build a baseball field for dead players.
Igby Goes Down (2002)
This movie has been called the closest thing we'll ever see to a film version of The Catcher in the Rye. Kieran Culkin plays Igby Slocumb, a cynical, alienated prep school dropout battling his own hurt and loneliness. Claire Danes is his sometime-girlfriend and Ryan Phillippe is his jackass (but rather attractive) older brother.
J.D. Salinger Doesn't Want to Talk (1999)
It's hard to make a movie about a man who doesn't want to speak or be photographed, but that's what the makers of this documentary set out to do. The filmmakers interviewed Salinger's relatives, friends, and former close associates like Joyce Maynard, to compile this picture of the writer and his chosen life of isolation.
It's not like he's going to break his silence with a Twitter feed). This one is a forum for all things Salinger-related. It's not that pretty to look at, but contains useful information.
Catcher in the Rye Quiz
Test your knowledge of the book with this About.com quiz. (If you've read this biography and still can't answer the first question, please get off our website. You need more help than we can offer you.)
The Catcher in the Rye, Brit-style
The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper, has helpfully and hilariously condensed the entire text into a few paragraphs, complete with British slang. Read this for laughs, but we can't quite recommend that you use it as a study guide.
American Museum of Natural History
Holden says that inside this New York institution, "it always smelled like it was raining outside, even if it wasn't, and you were in the only nice, dry, cosy place in the world." This is completely true. The deer and the Indians are still there, only now there's a cool website to help you plan your visit as well.
Holden's Tour of New York
Want to retrace his steps? Here's a handy itinerary of the places Caulfield visited on his three-day tour of New York. Check out the lousy show at Rockefeller Center, the spooky wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and all the goddamn phonies on Fifth Avenue.
Catcher in Rye: Igby Goes Down
There are a lot of Salinger-related English class projects on YouTube. This one was our favorite. It mixes synopses of Salinger's plot with a great soundtrack and scenes from Igby Goes Down, a film inspired by the book. Nice work, Levi Gordon!
Catching Salinger: The French Version
In 2007, a French writer set out to make a documentary about J.D. Salinger. He tried to meet him. Spoiler alert: he didn't! Here's the trailer.
Catching Salinger: The American Version
A scene from a 2008 documentary also called Catching Salinger, focusing on his time at Valley Forge Military Academy.
Catching Salinger: Natural History Museum
The filmmakers visit the Natural History Museum in New York.
"Catcher in the Rye"
Holden Caulfield, Guns N' Roses style.
E-text copies of Salinger's writings.
The Catcher in the Rye Review
The 1951 New York Times review.
Nine Stories Review
The 1953 New York Times review of Salinger's second book.
Franny and Zooey Review
The 1963 New York Times review of Salinger's book.
Time magazine's 1961 profile of the author, who had already begun his retreat into a hermetic life.
"Holden at Fifty"
A New Yorker essay by Louis Menand on the enduring appeal of The Catcher in the Rye.