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Salinger [Hardcover]

David Shields , Shane Salerno
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 3 2013


Raised in Park Avenue privilege, J. D. Salinger sought out combat, surviving five bloody battles of World War II, and out of that crucible he created a novel, The Catcher in the Rye, which journeyed deep into his own despair and redefined postwar America.

For more than fifty years, Salinger has been one of the most elusive figures in American history. All of the attempts to uncover the truth about why he disappeared have been undermined by a lack of access and the recycling of inaccurate information. In the course of a nine-year investigation, and especially in the three years since Salinger’s death, David Shields and Shane Salerno have interviewed more than 200 people on five continents (many of whom had previously refused to go on the record) to solve the mystery of what happened to Salinger.

Constructed like a thriller, this oral biography takes you into Salinger’s private world for the first time, through the voices of those closest to him: his World War II brothers-in-arms, his family, his friends, his lovers, his classmates, his editors, his New Yorker colleagues, his spiritual advisors, and people with whom he had relationships that were secret even to his own family. Their intimate recollections are supported by more than 175 photos (many never seen before), diaries, legal records, and private documents that are woven throughout; in addition, appearing here for the first time, are Salinger’s “lost letters”—ranging from the 1940s to 2008, revealing his intimate views on love, literature, fame, religion, war, and death, and providing a raw and revelatory self-portrait.

Salinger published his last story in 1965 but kept writing continuously until his death, locked for years inside a bunker in the woods, compiling manuscripts and filing them in a secret vault. Was he a genius who left the material world to focus on creating immaculate art or a haunted recluse, lost in his private obsessions? Why did this writer, celebrated by the world, stop publishing? Shields and Salerno’s investigation into Salinger’s epic life transports you from the bloody beaches of Normandy, where Salinger landed under fire, carrying the first six chapters of The Catcher in the Rye . . . to the hottest nightclub in the world, the Stork Club, where he romanced the beautiful sixteen-year-old Oona O’Neill until she met Charlie Chaplin . . . from his top-secret counterintelligence duties, which took him to a subcamp of Dachau . . . to a love affair with a likely Gestapo agent whom he married and brought home to his Jewish parents’ Park Avenue apartment and photographs of whom appear here for the first time . . . from the pages of the New Yorker, where he found his voice by transforming the wounds of war into the bow of art . . . to the woods of New Hampshire, where the Vedanta religion took over his life and forced his flesh-and-blood family to compete with his imaginary Glass family.

Deepening our understanding of a major literary and cultural figure, and filled with many fascinating revelations— including the birth defect that was the real reason Salinger was initially turned down for military service; the previously unknown romantic interest who was fourteen when Salinger met her and, he said, inspired the title character of “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor”; the first photographs ever seen of Salinger at war and the last known photos of him alive; never-before-published love letters that Salinger, at fifty-three, wrote to an eighteen-year-old Joyce Maynard; and, finally, what millions have been waiting decades for: the contents of his legendary vault—Salinger is a monumental book about the cost of war and the cost of art.

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Product Description


“Unprecedented . . . Nine years in the making and thoroughly documented . . . Providing by far the most detailed report of previously unreleased material, the book . . . both fleshes out and challenges aspects of the author’s legend. . . . [Salinger] has new information well beyond any possible posthumous fiction.” (Hillel Italie The Associated Press)

“Eloquently written and exhaustively reported . . . Salinger is an unmitigated success. . . . Shields and Salerno have struck journalistic gold. Salinger is a revelation, and offers the most complete picture of an American icon, a man deified by silence, haunted by war, frustrated in love—and more frail and human than he ever wanted the world to know. . . . A startlingly revealing story.” (USA Today (3.5 out of 4 stars))

“Revealing . . . [A] sharp-edged portrait.” (Michiko Kakutani The New York Times)

“Vivid . . . There are riches here . . . [Salinger] presents a decade’s worth of genuinely valuable research . . . Salinger doesn’t excuse its subject’s personal failings, but it helps explain them: in his fiction, Salinger had a chance to be the good, untraumatized man he couldn’t be in real life.” (Lev Grossman Time)

“A stupendous work . . . I predict with the utmost confidence that, after this, the world will not need another Salinger biography.” (John Walsh Sunday Times (London))

"Salinger gets the goods on an author's reclusive life. . . . It strips away the sheen of his exceptionalism, trading in his genius for something much more real." (Los Angeles Times)

Salinger is the thorny, complicated portrait that its thorny, complicated subject deserves. . . . The book offers the most complete rendering yet of Salinger’s World War II service, the transformative trauma that began with the D-Day invasion and carried through the horrific Battle of Hürtgen Forest and the liberation of a Dachau subcamp.” (The Washington Post)

“Engrossing . . . There are fascinating and unique accounts that get to the heart of Salinger. . . . The freshest material comes from Salinger’s letters, which bring his own voice, often adolescent-sounding, into the commentary. Previous biographers didn’t have access to much of this material.” (The Wall Street Journal)

"The reminiscences are layered with a stunning array of primary material. . . . Taken as a whole—the memories, the documents, the pictures—the book feels as close as we'll ever get to being inside Salinger's head." (Entertainment Weekly)

“Juicy . . . Salinger is full of fascinating revelations. . . . The most extensive portrait yet of a writer who spent nearly sixty years doing everything in his power to avoid precisely this kind of exposure.” (The Daily Beast)

“Unprecedented . . . A masterwork . . . An exquisitely researched and beautifully engineered piece of storytelling about one of modern history’s most enigmatic personas.” (Maria Popova Brain Pickings)

“Refreshingly frank about [Salinger’s] many shortcomings and how they might have affected his work . . . Salinger amply documents the author’s youthful arrogance and selfishness, his infatuation with his own cleverness and his inability to see the world from the perspective of anyone who wasn’t a lot like himself.” (Laura Miller Salon)

About the Author

David Shields is the author of fifteen books, including the New York Times bestseller The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead; Reality Hunger, named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications; and Black Planet, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His work has been translated into twenty languages.

Shane Salerno is the director, producer, and writer of Salinger, which premiered theatrically in 2013 from the Weinstein Company and will debut as the 200th episode of American Masters on PBS in early 2014. In addition to Salinger, Salerno has written and produced a number of successful films and TV series. He most recently co-wrote and served as executive producer of the critically acclaimed film Savages, directed by three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone. 

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard going May 12 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It s a detailed generous story, strong insights, well researched and written, but you know what? I wish I hadn t looked at those turned over rocks. I feel we need heros more than ever these days and he comes across as a very flawed, hypocritical and troubled man. Not clear that he rose above his terrible adversities. Left me feeling sad, for him and us all. Not really planning to read any new releases any more. In fact, I m going to avoid biographies from now on, at least until someone has vetted them, or i don t care so much about the writer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Dec 13 2013
By Painter
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Have to 'review' this again as I'm baffled by all the negative comments about this book. Why are people not liking it and in so many numbers? Why does it make so many people so angry?

I liked everything about it. I agree with all the positive comments written here by others. I'll leave it at that.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars recluse in the rye Oct. 3 2013
By Nan
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
the story of who is J.D.Salinger and why he is such an enigma. A damaged human trying to live a spiritual existence. From pre-war rejection of his writings by New Yorker, his WWII experiences as a CIC agent D-Day soldier, concentration camp liberator and mental health institution patient, to triumph of post-war publishing, Salinger deals with the fame that would expose the physical and mental shortcomings of character. A writer attempting to create without ego and the prospect of publishing as the goal of his art.

This book tells us all that can be gathered from pursed lips and sly disclosure of family, friends, foes and lovers, physical and spiritual.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.5 out of 5 stars  136 reviews
127 of 152 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Field Notes, Not A Biography Sept. 4 2013
By A. Royse - Published on
I waited all day to be able to curl up in bed with this 'biography.' And then I went to bed utterly and completely disappointed. This is NOT a biography. This is, at best, cut-and-pasted field Notes from so much research that the writers must have finally given up on writing anything. It is source material for someone who wants to write a biography, but is is not a book for someone who wants to read a biography.

It is, LITERALLY (in the old sense of the word, not the new one, which has no meaning) hundreds of pages of quotes, loosely organized around a general theme. There is no attempt at a through-line to paint a complete picture, no connecting the dots, no thought whatsoever.

This book is not written. It's not even really edited. It could best be described as curated, but only barely.

And honestly, if it is even just a transcript of the movie, I am no longer interested in seeing the movie...... Such a disappointment.

Unless what you want is field notes, in which case, this is a gold mine. You just have to do all the digging.
47 of 58 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Lesson for me: Never buy without checking the customer reviews. Sept. 12 2013
By Busy Reader: Get To The Point - Published on
I reject this . . . collection of words, for the same reasons stated in the other negative reviews. This is not a book, it's a chaotic, repetitive landfill of fragmentary quotes. You may ask why I wrote my own review, if I agreed with the others. I want to do my part to keep the 1-star count high, so people are fairly warned before they waste time and money on this . . . thing.

The trailer for the associated documentary film flashed in front of me at a theater. It looked exciting. I had read only "Catcher In The Rye," and knew little about Salinger the man. When I saw the book, I clicked on it right away. I wish I had checked the customer reviews first. As stated, you get hundreds of pages of disconnected drivel.

Person 1: When Jerry came back from the war, he never was the same.

Person 2: Something happened to him over there.

Person 3: The Jerry who went to Europe was not the Jerry who came home.

These are not actual quotes, but the text is that shallow. The same banal thoughts are repeated ENDLESSLY. Twenty, thirty, fifty times, a new person says exactly the same thing. I stuck it out to the end, curious to see if the 'authors' would provide any conclusion whatever. They do. In the final chapter, they bring their psychological examination of Salinger to a bombastic, unsupported conclusion. This was almost fun, like watching an Olympic competition for blowhards.

This publication is a horrible mess. Try any other book on Salinger, or just go read Wikipedia, you'll be much better off.

During this excruciating yawnfest, I reflected on a larger phenomenon. People like Salerno and Shields ask, "What was wrong with Salinger? He must have been deeply wounded. If he were healthy, he would welcome our attention. How can he want to escape our love--we, his readers? We're fascinating people, after all."

I'd like to turn that question around. What's wrong with us, that we can't accept a man who liked to be left alone? Why can't we accept that he was just not that into us? He liked to do his work and live his life in private. It's really, really simple, unless you argue with it and say it can't possibly be true. I own my part; I bought this wretched book to find out more about J.D. Salinger. At least I didn't stalk him while he was alive. This seems to have been a national sport, as well.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Understand Salinger, and you'll understand Holden and Seymour Dec 12 2013
By Adam - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Readers of fiction often wonder whether an author's personal experiences are woven into his or her stories. Biographies about famous writers are attractive because they reveal those connections. "Salinger" is a comprehensive account of J. D. Salinger's affluent youth, horrific war experiences, publishing achievements, romantic failures, and eventual withdrawal from society. By learning about Salinger's life, readers will come to understand Holden Caulfield and Seymour Glass a good deal better.

This book is not, as some reviewers here have implied, a transcript of the "Salinger" documentary film. At over 700 pages, it goes deeper than any movie could. It contains bibliographies of writings by and about J. D. Salinger, brief biographies of the people quoted in the book, and even descriptive sketches of the fictional Glass family. It does not, unfortunately, have an index,
and it is sometimes difficult to tell in what context a statement was made (such as an interview given specifically for this project, or some other source).

Other reviewers have lamented how the book is comprised of quotation after quotation and does not follow a traditional narrative format. But what better way to learn about Salinger's life than to read firsthand accounts directly from the people who knew him? Instead of reading the biographer's description, let Jean Miller, for example, tell how she met Salinger on the beach when she was fourteen (inspiring his stories "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and "For Esme - With Love and Squalor"). Occasionally, the same stories are told by different voices, although this does not result in monotony, as some reviewers suggest. It only helps to build a more complete account of the man and his experiences, and attentive readers will be intrigued when two eyewitnesses tell slightly different versions of the same event.

This book is not just a repackaging of old Salinger anecdotes, as has been claimed here. It contains new, previously unpublished material that has become available only since Salinger's death, and it concludes with a few tantalizing pages that hint we have not seen the last of the Caulfield and Glass families.
43 of 55 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Disclosures Yet Sloppy Book Sept. 3 2013
By Leon Rum - Published on
Unquestionably some interesting revelations in this book and the detective work yielded some new voices to add to the choir of Salinger scholarship. The tone of the book, however, is remarkably tabloid and self congratulatory in nature. It simultaneously attempts to vampire the integrity of Salinger the man and artist while trespassing upon every principle he stood for and amounts to exactly everything Salinger stood against: sacrificing anything of value to turn a buck. Margaret Salinger and Joyce Maynard did it and cashed in while paying a price with their own integrity. No doubt everything this book and movie have been lauded for, in the eyes of the marketplace, justify the 7-figure book, TV, and movie deals Salerno has been reported to have earned for this. Hope it was worth it. I read the book all afternoon and just felt sorry for them and, frankly, Salinger readers. Salinger's life isn't a riddle to be exposed, it's poetry that captured our imaginations and touched us. Despite lifting Salinger's book cover and hailing this as the break through of the 20th century etc etc, this book and what I can tell of the film lacks anything remotely like the magic Salinger possessed that connected with his readers. Salinger's withdrawl reduced to one testicle. The film poster called it "acclaimed" before it was even released.

It never rises above what would instantly make it appeal to people trying to sell it. Surprise, surprise.
66 of 88 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's the transcript of the movie! Sept. 3 2013
By Coolkayaker - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What a terrible disappointment. I'm a huge Salinger fan, and have many books about him and by him.

I got this Shields, Salerno book today, and it had a damaged back cover corner. Looks like it bumped in the box. For that alone, it's going back to Amazon tomorrow. In addition, and this is appropriate for a review, the book itself is smaller than one would expect. I think this reflects cost cutting on the part of the publisher. It's dimensions are smaller than classic hardcovers.

The book is not "written" at all. It is the transcription of the movie, with some monochrome photos (presumably also from the movie) added. Literally, it's with the name of a person at each paragraph.

Gore Vidal: blah blah.

David Shields: blah blah.

It's reading an interview, but not an interview of one person per chapter--it's all intermingled. It's like 150 people at a cocktail party, all speaking to you at once. That's how many people they interview. It is extremely hard to read in this context. It is a bunch of anecdotes and a few facts, all just out in the air with no grounding. One can't even tell who is who half the time.

If you watch the movie trailer, it's vivid (we'll see if the movie itself is) and engaging. Well, watch the trailer and envision no images, just reading the script alone.

Many of you reading this will be wondering, as I did, should I buy the book or the DVD. Well, I chose the wrong option. The book is the DVD, but in screenplay form. I love Jerome Salinger so much that I would still like the book, if for no other reason than I can look up simple facts about him at any time. A reference, if you will. This is much harder to do with a movie. Well, guess what. This book is so haphazard, there truly is no meaningful way to look anything up in it anyhow. It's a bunch of five line quotes, is all it is.

Now, I certainly am not saying that the information is uninteresting. But, because we don't know and there is no description of the speakers, it's merely salacious tidbits packed into an echo chamber. "Who are you, you you? Why are you talking about Salinger, Salinger Salinger?" The hard part is to tease out the meaningful from the trivial. This would be much easier to do with film. I would appreciate seeing the people being interviewed. I can tell from this "book", which again is literally a transcript of the movie, that the movie might be good. It would be interesting to see the people in Salinger's lives--what do they look like, how do they tell the little tales about Jerry, what are their expressions as they speak, how old are they now, where are they when we meet them. None of this comes off in the book, at all. We barely know who these people are, let alone their looks and their demeanor.

This biography is like reading a series of extra long Tweets and trying to understand the man that everyone is tweeting about. No kidding!

There could not have been more disappointment when I opened and tried to read this book. Mine was damaged, it is a modern "small" hardcover, and it reads like a bad Broadway play.

Kenneth Slawenski, host of the Dead Caulfield website, has written what, to me, is the consummate Salinger biography. Give that one a whirl from your local library. JD Salinger: A Life (fantastic book, but heavy on the history of his stories and writing, so be ready for less titillating morsels and more about why he wrote what he wrote in that book).J. D. Salinger: A Life

I will be interested to see the movie. The DVD of the movie is actually less expensive than the hardcover of this book. And, of course, the movie will be free on PBS in January 2014, the American Masters series. It's "in the bag", already scheduled. Now, since I'm skeptical of the movie slightly, too, I think I'll just wait four months and see it for free.

Hopefully someone will at least know what they are buying when they purchase this book. There was no "look inside" at the time I bought it (there may be now, I don't know)-- so, do check out the first chapter in Kindle (the introduction is prose, the chapter 1 onward is screenplay, so I hope Kindle gives you at least the true chapter 1) and see if you like it. Maybe you will. It's over 700 pages of what you see there.

Thanks. This is the first time I have ever had a book damaged and needed a return book to Amazon. Thanks for reading this. Any negative review usually has someone on the other side who loved it, and I respect that. No sense leaving a comment, just write your own review. Cool.
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