That Crazy Cliff
It’s the birthday of J. D. (Jerome David) Salinger, born in New York City (1919). He published his first story, “The Young Folks,” in 1940, in a literary magazine called Story. It was all the encouragement he needed to keep writing. After a series of rejections, his stories were accepted by magazines like Saturday Evening Post and Esquire. He wrote one called “Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” and The New Yorker accepted it, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, the magazine decided Salinger’s story was too light-hearted for a readership stunned by war. Salinger was drafted, and took part in the invasion of Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, and the liberation of Dachau, but the war was hard on him and he ended up in a military hospital in 1945, suffering from shell shock.
When he returned to the United States in 1946, The New Yorker finally published “Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” and Salinger incorporated some of the story’s elements — including the alienated teenage protagonist, Holden Caulfield — into his first and only novel. The Catcher in the Rye (1951). The New Yorker rejected everything he sent them from 1944 to 1946, including 15 poems, but they were so impressed with his short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” (1948) that they drew up a contract giving them the right of first refusal to all of his stories from then on. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” was the first of several stories featuring the Glass family.
The Catcher in the Rye was an instant success: within two months of publication, it was reprinted eight times. But it also quickly became notorious; parents objected to the casual mentions of prostitutes and Caulfield’s proclivity for swearing. It’s the second-most taught book in American high schools, but it’s also the most censored book in the country. All the publicity and controversy drove Salinger further and further from the public eye, and he moved from New York to Cornish, New Hampshire in 1953. Though he continued to write for his own pleasure — and told a neighbor he had 15 completed novels in his house — he published his last story in The New Yorker in 1965.
The Catcher in the Rye opens:
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”