By Ashly Moore Sheldon • January 30, 2022
Although J. D. Salinger is best known for his one novel, it was his short story, A Perfect Day for Bananafish that leveraged his position as an important writer. Published 74 years ago in The New Yorker on January 31, 1948, the story centers on Seymour Glass, a recurring character—along with his large quirky family—in many of Salinger's subsequent stories .
The Glass family appears in all of Salinger's short story collections, including Nine Stories, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, and Franny and Zooey. Here we share more about the author and his unforgettable characters.
If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she's late?
At twenty-three, Salinger fell for the sixteen-year-old daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill. Although he found her to be terribly self-absorbed—confiding to a friend that "Little Oona's hopelessly in love with little Oona"—he was besotted, calling her often and writing her long letters from the warfront. The relationship ended when Oona married 53-year-old Charlie Chaplin, becoming his fourth wife.
I'm sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect.
While stationed in Normandy, Salinger arranged to meet Ernest Hemingway, who was working as a war correspondent in Paris. Salinger admired Hemingway's work and the feeling turned out to be mutual. Hemingway was impressed with Salinger's writing and remarked, "He has a helluva talent." The two began corresponding and in one letter Salinger wrote that their talks were among his few positive memories of the war.
I'll read my books and I'll drink coffee and I'll listen to music and I'll bolt the door.
After Germany was defeated, Salinger was hospitalized for several weeks and diagnosed with combat stress reaction, a precursor for what we now term PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Years later, he told his daughter, "You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose entirely, no matter how long you live." In Salinger, biographer Paul Alexander speculated that Salinger drew upon his wartime experiences in many of his stories.
People always clap for the wrong reasons.
Incidentally, The Catcher in the Rye is also the second-most frequently taught novel in public high schools (after John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men). The narrator's use of profanity and frank discussion of sex was met with outrage from many, including an angry parent who compiled a tabulation of the 326 instances of swear words in the slim 73,404 word book, also noting "one incident of flatulence." But for Salinger, the novel was a labor of love. He remarked, "My boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book, and it was a great relief telling people about it."
It's partly true, too, but it isn't all true. People always think something's all true.
Raised in a Jewish family, Salinger was drawn to Zen Buddhism after the war. He later practiced Hinduism and from there, became infatuated with Kriya yoga. After abandoning that, he dabbled in Dianetics (the forerunner of Scientology), even meeting with its founder L. Ron Hubbard. This was followed by an adherence to a number of spiritual, medical, and nutritional belief systems including Christian Science, Edgar Cayce, homeopathy, acupuncture, and macrobiotics. In her memoir, Dream Catcher, his daughter Margaret Salinger wrote about the way this behavior affected his relationships, particularly his marriage to her mother, Claire.
I hate actors. They never act like people. They just think they do.
My Foolish Heart was producer Samuel Goldwyn's decidedly loose adaptation of Salinger's Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut. The short story, included in Nine Stories, centers on a married woman, who pines for her former boyfriend, Walt Glass, who died in the war. The 1949 film was panned by critics and Salinger never allowed another adaptation of his work. Producers clamored for the rights to The Catcher in the Rye, but Salinger repeatedly refused, commenting that "Jerry Lewis tried for years to get his hands on the part of Holden." Author Joyce Maynard, Salinger's ex-lover, once said, "The only person who might ever have played Holden Caulfield would have been J. D. Salinger."
People are always ruining things for you.
In the wake of his success after publishing The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger retreated from the public eye, often issuing a plaintive question: "Why can't my life be my own?" He rarely agreed to interviews or public appearances, but J. D. Salinger: The Last Interview is a compilation of interviews, conversations, public records, and more, offering insight into a man who was fiercely resistant to the spotlight, but powerless to escape its glare.
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