For more than 50 years, the ever elusive author of The Catcher in the Rye has been the subject of a relentless stream of newspaper and magazine articles as well as several biographies. Yet all of these attempts have been hampered by a fundamental lack of access and by the persistent recycling of inaccurate information. Salinger remains, astonishingly, an enigma. The complex and contradictory human being behind the myth has never been revealed.
In the eight years since Salinger was begun, and especially in the three years since Salinger’s death, the authors interviewed on five continents more than 200 people, many of whom had previously refused to go on the record about their relationship with Salinger. This oral biography offers direct eyewitness accounts from Salinger’s World War II brothers-in-arms, his family members, his close friends, his lovers, his classmates, his neighbors, his editors, his publishers, his New Yorker colleagues, and people with whom he had relationships that were secret even to his own family. Shields and Salerno illuminate most brightly the last 56 years of Salinger’s life: a period that, until now, had remained completely dark to biographers.
Provided unprecedented access to diaries, letters, legal records, and secret documents, listeners will feel they have, for the first time, gotten beyond Salinger’s meticulously built-up wall. The result is the definitive portrait of one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century.
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By Rich S. on 16-09-13
Good biographical details marred by over analysis
First, this is a book that probably comes off better as an audio work rather than a print edition. It is largely a compilation of interviews and letters, which lend themselves to being read aloud. The readers here, especially Campbell Scott are very compelling. Reviews I've read of the print edition complain of the book's length and make it sound like a slog to read. So for those with a choice, the Audible edition is probably the best bet.
As for the content itself, this book cries out for a skilled editor. It is too long and some sections, especially the authors' analysis, could have been cut to make a more readable book. The authors' attempts to imitate Salinger's style are cringe-worthy but fortunately don't dominate the book.
The authors especially go off track in expressing the dubious idea that Salinger's study of Vedanta led him to stop publishing, renounce the world and live a hermit-like existence. The authors seem to think that this is a Vedanta prescription for living. I have been a member of the Vedanta Society for more than a decade and that is not a way of life followed even by the monks, who publish books and travel, give lectures and even have Facebook pages. Being a Vedanta devotee did not stop Christopher Isherwood from living an active gay life in Hollywood while helping translate Vedanta literature, publishing his own novels and memoirs, lecturing at universities and giving press interviews. The SALINGER authors' repeated contention that Vedanta "killed" Salinger's art is just not credible. They misconstrue Vedanta as a monolithic and dogmatic belief system with extreme lifestyle restrictions when it is anything but that. Members of the Vedanta Society as well as monks and nuns are free to follow the spiritual path that resonates with them individually. Anyone who doubts that might want to read Isherwood's MY GURU AND HIS DISCIPLE.
From the many interviews and letters that make up this book, it appears that Salinger did not live the life of a hermit in a cave. He travelled, attended sporting events, corresponded with life-long friends, loved television, and read The New York Times. As several people quoted in the book point out, the myth of Salinger the hermit stemmed mostly from the fact that for many possible reasons, he stopped publishing his stories, avoided press interviews, shunned the New York and L.A. social elite, and wouldn't allow The Catcher in the Rye to be made into a movie. He wasn't a hermit. He was an author who avoided the marketing and media publicity machine that dominates American pop culture.
A good biography of Salinger is yet to be written. This is obviously not it. But for those interested in the man and the artist this book contains a lot of very interesting information.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
By Melinda on 05-09-13
Ingenious novel or biography? Hard to tell....
Wow, am I glad I got the flu and was too uncomfortable to sleep and had to spend 2 days in bed. This book is GENIUS...the narration is perfection (sometimes multiple casts don't work for me, but this one is done brilliantly) and I have always wanted to know more about the man who wrote Catcher in the Rye, as it has so much significance. I know there is a documentary (that I hope will not be overlooked in favor of Anchorman, Spiderman 10 or some such drivel) coming out this fall and I wanted to read the book first, as the only book of JD Salinger's I have read is "Catcher". Now, I want to read everything...and this book suggests that there are 5 completed manuscripts that are going to start being released in 2015. These books are currently in the custody of his son. JD just did not want any more publicity in his lifetime.
He reminds me of a male version of Harper Lee, only he had more than one book in him.
It is an amazing blend of narrative, insights, real letters (never before published) and voices of those who loved the beloved writer who just wanted to be left in peace, but made pilgrimages to his house anyway, just to be blessed or given direction or were his lovers. Mr. Salinger kept saying "I am a fiction writer...I have nothing to offer you" to the many pilgrims. He participated in D Day and lived through WWII....which is an amazing feat in it's self.... But he was obviously shell shocked (or what we would call today PTSD) and just wanted to live a peaceful life and write. He never wanted our adoration.
We get to hear from his first true love, Oona O'Neill, the saucy daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill, who married Charlie Chaplain over JD and had 8 kids and flaunted their sexuality in JD's face. (that happens early on in the book, and I shall not reveal more)
We get to hear from the few fans who were able to break through his impenetrable wall-o-silence life and exchanged letters with him or published articles about the reclusive author.
Probably most of the facts could be looked up on Wikipedia, but then you miss the chance of listening to one of the greatest books ever recorded!
Five stars isn't enough for this wonderful audiobook.... I would need a whole constellation of stars to do it right...
BRAVO! This is the best book I have heard in a very long time. Totally captivating. But I have to wonder.... is it a novel (as listed here and other places) or a clever biography. You choose.
26 of 28 people found this review helpful