Jen's Book Den's Reviews > J.D. Salinger: A Life

J.D. Salinger by Kenneth Slawenski
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's review
Jan 11, 2012

really liked it
Read in January, 2012

I have to admit I did not know much about J.D. Salinger before reading this biography. However, I have always been intrigued by Salinger ever since I was fifteen and had read Catcher in the Rye. Slawenski remarkably salutes J.D. Salinger, whose full name is Jerome David Salinger. “It is an invitation to salute. A salute not the memory but to the essence of J.D. Salinger…”

J.D. Salinger: A Life is a thorough and well researched biography on the man and author. Being born to a middle-class Jewish family and raised in the Upper East Side of NYC, is in part, what inspired Salinger. There is a thorough accounting of his parents history, along with pictures of his home on Park Avenue, which was reportedly the basis of the Glass family home in Franny and Zooey.

Slawenski covers Salinger’s childhood, and education. It was interesting to read about Salinger’s experiences in Valley Forge Military Academy and how those experiences may have contributed to his formulation of the character of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. According to Slawenski, Salinger and Caulfield “shared many attributes”.

Another interesting fact is that Salinger wrote the class song of 1936 for the Valley Forge Military Academy, and through present day, the song is still in use.

Salinger lived through war time (World War II) and although he wanted to enlist in the army, he was initially rejected due to a slight heart irregularity. In 1942 some of the classifications were lessened, and he was subsequently drafted. Salinger had five battle stars along with a Presidential Unit Citation for Valor. There were many disenchanting events that Salinger witnessed while in service, a lot of which had contributed to the struggling emotions of his protagonist Holden Caulfield. “The struggle of Holden Caulfield echoed the spiritual journey of the author.”

There were so many rich points throughout this biography; Slawenski does a tremendous job in relating not only the events and ideas that inspired the author, but also gives an in depth look at some of the characters and how they related to the author and vice versa.

I was unaware of how many short stories and other writings were actually attributed to Salinger. Being from New York City myself, I found myself intrigued by the life this author lived. In his later years, he lived off his own land, grew his own vegetables organically and as much as he could tried to live a self-sufficient life. Slawenski does an exemplary job when he compares Salinger to Dickens “For all of its unconventionality, The Catcher in the Rye carries on a literary tradition begun by Charles Dickens…” “Catcher in the Rye continues an observation of mankind as seen through the lens of an adolescent…”

Slawenski spent close to eight years putting this biography together. J.D. Salinger was born on January 1, 1919 and died on January 27, 2010. His work will always be known for its value in classic literature. Aside from Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey, Salinger is known for his novellas Raise High the Roof Beam and Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction as well as Nine Stories.

This electronic galley was provided to me for free by Net Galley in exchange for my honest review.
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