J.D. Salinger: A Life
Random House, January 25, 2011 (464p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6951-4
Starred Reviews: Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly
Spotlight Selection ~ Amazon Best Books of the Month, January, 2011
2011 selection for: Book of the Month Club,BOMC2, Quality Paperback Club, History Book Club, Columbia House
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, “was 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 Vedanta and 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relationship with the New Yorker, and Slawenski's assiduous research allows him to identify and assess many obscure and unpublished stories.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.
~ Publishers Weekly
Well written, energetic and magnificently researched; a true picture of Salinger emerges from its pages.
– Peter Ackroyd, author of Shakespeare: The Biography, London: The Biography, Poe: A Life Cut Short
“A plethora of new information about the mysterious and reclusive author, along with a surprisingly insightful analysis of each of Salinger's major published works.”
– W. P. Kinsella , author of Shoeless Joe
J.D. Salinger is more than a major American writer, more than a cultural icon; in his beloved stories and his canonical novel THE CATCHER IN THE RYE you can hear the idioms and intonations of our national voice. He is so familiar a figure that we forget we never really knew him. Kenneth Slawenski's superb biography settles this mystery: his Salinger, traumatized by grueling combat in World War II; afflicted by depression; wrestling with a deep spiritual unease, is far from the coy, clever short- (and not-so-short) story writer associated for decades with The New Yorker. He is a victim of self-inflicted psychic wounds, fatally at odds with his own genius. Slawenski understands his subject about as well as a biographer can. What we need to know about Salinger is in this book.
– James Atlas , author of Bellow, a Biography and Delmore Schwartz, The Life of an American Poet
The job of all biographers, no matter how much access they are granted to a subject's papers, is to interpret, not transcribe, a life, and Slawenski has done that in beguiling, fascinating detail
– Bill Ott, Booklist
Impressively researched, sympathetic critical biography of one of the 20th century's most perplexing fiction authors. Slawenski's close study of Salinger's roots admirably redirects attention to his writing and thought instead of his self-imposed exile.
— Kirkus * starred review
Slawenski's life of Salinger makes sense of a seemingly unknowable story, one that has beguiled readers for more than 50 years. That alone makes his book must reading.
— Booklist * 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.
In total, an invaluable work that sheds fascinating light on the willfully elusive author.
— Publishers Weekly * starred review
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 The Catcher in the Rye in high school will find it enlightening.
— Amazon.com Best Books, Spotlight Selection
“A first-rate book which is especially good on the links between Salinger's fictions and their thematic developments . . . The passages on Salinger's own war show that Slawenski can be an excellent storyteller himself, as he follows his subject through the thick of the horrors from D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge.”
— The Daily Telegraph
“A welcome trove of information. Partly through exhaustive biographical research (especially into the early years) and partly through porings over almost unknown, uncollected stories, Slawenski enthrallingly illuminates what turned Salinger into an extraordinary literary phenomenon.”
— The Sunday Times
“Slawenski sets about his task with such unblushing love and zest that his book is as irresistible to me as Salinger himself. . . . Slawenski has a priceless humility and a sympathy with his subject which is unstinting though not unqualified. As a result, I think you get from him a rather better idea of what Salinger was really like and why he lived his life as he did than you might from a biography which is licensed to describe itself as ‘scholarly' or ‘authorised.' . . . If you can imagine Salinger having a soft spot for any book about him . . . then Slawenski's might be the one.”
— The Spectator
“Diligent, respectful, resolute in its refusal to include gossip, always ready to acknowledge the point at which evidence ends and speculation begins.”
— The Mail on Sunday
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