5.0 out of 5 stars Finally a Real Biography...
Kenneth Slawenski's "J.D. Salinger A Life" is an excellent biography. Perhaps as a result of the death of this great writer, Slawenski was able to include much more information than any other biography I have read on Salinger. Ian Hamilton's book "In Search of J.D. Salinger" offered little other than litigation information. Both Joyce Maynard and Salinger's daughter's...
Published 14 months ago by Harris Macklin
3.0 out of 5 stars For J.D. - with love... and more love
I'm not going to go in-depth here, but as an avid Salinger reader, and one who's read all biograpies, quite a few studies and all of the uncollected and collected stories, I can say this really didn't shed any new light on the man. Slawenski is far too enamored with his subject, always offering apologetic explanations whenever Salinger does something negative. Last time I...
Published on May 18 2011 by Raskolnikov
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4.0 out of 5 stars A biographer who almost "catches" his subject,
This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)This is one of two biographies made available via the Amazon US Vine program that I have read. The other is Robert Massie's Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. They have been widely reviewed and generally praised. My reviews of them are late to the proverbial "party."
In my opinion, here is what they share in common and where there are differences:
1. Their authors rely on a wealth of reputable sources, all duly cited. Given the nature and extent of Salinger's efforts to protect his privacy, however, this was a much greater challenge for Slawenski.
2. Those who read these books will probably learn about as much as they want and need to know about the subject. Whereas there is a wealth of biographical material that focuses on Catherine, however, there is relatively much less concerning Salinger for the reason just cited.
3. Their authors write very well. For example, the presentation of the material flows smoothly. True, Massie and Slawenski have quite different writing styles and historical perspectives but both proceed through the material with remarkable dexterity.
Other reviewers already have (by now) covered most of the main points to be made. I now share these:
1. Until reading this book, I really had no clear sense of Salinger the human beings. Details such as his enjoyment of church dinners bring to life (at least to some extent) the dour face in only a limited number of photographs.
2. Having taught Catcher in the Rye for more than 20 years in prior lives, I assumed that Holden was (at least to a great extent) a persona for Salinger. True, all characters or at least most characters have at least some autobiographical element in their DNA. However, Salinger is far more interesting than Holden or any of Salinger's other characters...and far less accessible.
3. After I read this biography, I wanted to call up Salinger. This is the first time since I first read Catcher in the Rye (1961) that I wanted to do so. That may not be significant to anyone else but it is certainly very significant to me.
I rate Kenneth Slawenski Four Stars on all counts.
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally a Real Biography...,
This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)Kenneth Slawenski's "J.D. Salinger A Life" is an excellent biography. Perhaps as a result of the death of this great writer, Slawenski was able to include much more information than any other biography I have read on Salinger. Ian Hamilton's book "In Search of J.D. Salinger" offered little other than litigation information. Both Joyce Maynard and Salinger's daughter's books were mildly interesting to a point but offered more peeks into the negatives of the writer's life, and almost nothing about his work. Slawenski comes at this subject through the work. He clearly loves the author's work and has written a fair minded and balanced summary of the writer's life. Some people have complained that he summarized works that everyone has already read. He does do this but the more well known works are summarized briefly. Although overall a glowing tribute the writer does not mind speaking negatively about the works that are less valued, particularly Hapsworth 16, 1924 which he describes as "pretentious, unbelievable and taxing." Slawenski offers glimpse into Salinger's brutal military career and the death and destruction he witnessed as touched on in the brilliant short story "For Esme with Love and Squalor." He also talks about his isolation for the last 60 years of his life and gives us glimpses into what he did with his time. Slawenski presents the best glimpse yet of the life of the world's most enigmatic writer.
4.0 out of 5 stars How Do You Write a Biography of Someone Who Wanted Absolute Privacy?,
This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)"I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me." -- Numbers 11:14 (NKJV)
This biography will be of most value to those who have read little of Salinger's work and know even less about his life. Why? J.D. Salinger undertook to reduce his public profile in much the same way that a triple agent working for both sides in a war would try to keep the full scope of his or her duplicity secret.
As a result, Mr. Slawenski didn't have much to work with. Salinger's writing is appropriately the most eloquent expressions of his life and work. Comments by critics and fans are magnified from such a perspective. What remains of correspondence with editors and publishers is also made larger than life. Occasional run-ins with journalists also shine more than their significance.
But J.D. Salinger wasn't always J.D. Salinger. He was a more ordinary person growing up, and this biography provides helpful perspectives on the possible effects of some of his formative influences. I was particularly struck by the careful descriptions of the difficult battle and postwar conditions that Salinger must have experienced in Europe that left him feeling the need to convey what cannot be understood except by experience in his stories.
As a biographer, Mr. Slawenski brings some heavy baggage with him. First, he's so much a fan that many times the writing fails to capture the flaws in Salinger's character and attitudes. Second, for my taste he brings more literary analysis to Salinger's work than his personal skills warrant. Third, many of the descriptions of Salinger's spiritual perspectives are superficial to the extreme, failing to even comment on obvious points (such as how Salinger reconciled his Jewish heritage, his attraction to Zen practices, and frequent written references to Jesus Christ). Fourth, much of the writing is repetitious, a failing that's more obvious for someone who is writing about someone who expressed himself sparely.
All in all, I enjoyed the book. Although I have read all of Salinger's published work, I haven't done so in a long time. It was a pleasure to be immersed in the stories and novels again.
In fact, I was inspired to check out all the stories and books I could find in the library and start rereading them. In some cases, I haven't read the material in over 50 years so it was quite interesting to see how my reactions had changed. I encourage you to do the same, unless you have read Salinger in the last five years.
Thank you for your hard work, Mr. Slawenski.
3.0 out of 5 stars For J.D. - with love... and more love,
This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)I'm not going to go in-depth here, but as an avid Salinger reader, and one who's read all biograpies, quite a few studies and all of the uncollected and collected stories, I can say this really didn't shed any new light on the man. Slawenski is far too enamored with his subject, always offering apologetic explanations whenever Salinger does something negative. Last time I checked, the man wasn't supposed to be a saint. The biographer also eludes key events in Salinger's life, such as the publication of his daughter's memoirs, which are not even mentioned as if they just didn't exist. Odd. It really seemed like the book was written with the thought that Salinger might read it. Slawenski sure does is best not to irritate the author, often to the detriment of the objectivity needed to conduct such a project. All in all, "J.D. Salinger: A Life" does provide a fair share of information for those unfamiliar with the man behind the author, but it offers nothing new to serious readers of the man's oeuvre.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Misunderstood Life,
This review is from: J. D. Salinger: A Life (Hardcover)For someone who has only read Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" and several other of his short stories, I found this biography helpful in unlocking some of the more perplexing secrets of his personal life. For one, I have always been curious as to why Salinger decided to disappear from the writing scene shortly after becoming successful. Obvious from the detail in this study, Slawenski is definitely an authority on the subject. He has a passion when it comes to setting the record straight on a writer who has continually intrigued his readership with the complex struggles of oddball characters like Holden Caulfield, Franny and Zooey. It is handy to know that Jerry Salinger conformed his adult life to following the Zen-like direction of many of his characters. As Slawenski mentions in his book, Salinger was looking for a life that held a greater purpose of self-determination and self-realization. Most of his life, especially after the time he broke through as an accomplished author in the 1950s, consisted of trying to establish an identity in a world that chose to see him as anything but serious and polished. His Jewish background, his failure at school, his continual frustrations at not being published, and his emotional ties to his mother were all impediments that seemed to hold him back. Slawenski delves into those early days in search of factors that could help explain why Salinger never felt at ease with success when it eventually came his way. What he finds is a man impatient and confused as to his destiny. Signing up for war at around the time of the liberation of Europe is portrayed as a defining moment in Salinger's life. Here he got to witness the abject cruelty and insanity of mass destruction of property and life. He also met up with the likes of Hemmingway who indirectly inspired him to pursue a creative writing career. Caught in a veritable no-man's land between incipient adolescence and mature adulthood, Salinger, like his key creation, Caulfield, attempted to discover his true self in a world bogged down with pretentious ideas. With the publishing of "Catcher in the Rye", he wanted people to take him seriously. To that end he adopted the Vedanta philosophy that seemingly disciplined him as to the reality of truth and simplicity. As he became recognized as a big-name novelist, he quickly realized that the publishing world, as represented by the New Yorker and various agents, was dragging him headlong into a culture that destroyed his desire to control his own future. What started out as a promising career soon became an ugly tug-of-war between a very insecure and often unhappy man who thought his stories would deliver him from this futile scene and his publishers who wanted to alter his works to satisfy their readership. Slawenski does a capable job of defining the essence of who Salinger has become to a generation of restless youth looking for fulfillment in a materialistic post-World War II era. Like some self-acclaimed spiritual guru trying to share his epiphany of goodness and light, Salinger very much wanted to reach out to disaffected teenagers. When that strategy failed, Salinger withdrew further into the background, choosing to develop a private life that wasn't answerable to the demands and rigors of the fast-paced life of New York City and demanding fans. This voluntary withdrawal into obscurity unfortunately marked the decline of Salinger the writer in favor of Salinger the eccentric. I recommend this book because it is an important critical statement on the life of Jerry Salinger as to the external forces that shaped his ambitions to succeed, and how he then tried to use that success to achieve his own well-being. Though Salinger came with a lot of contradictions in his life, I suggest none of them make him any less an interesting person to read about.
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J. D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski (Hardcover - Jan 25 2011)
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