After J.D. Salinger's death in 2010, Charles McGrath writing for "The New York Times" described Salinger as "the Garbo of letters, famous for not wanting to be famous." For over 50 years, Salinger lived a semi-reclusive life in Cornish New Hampshire, never granting interviews and publishing nothing. The few photographs of him while he lived in New Hampshire show an older man, sometimes unhappy about being photographed. Local residents of the tiny town say they saw him often, but they respected his need for privacy and left him alone. Taking pictures of him ( there are a few the public can see) was not a good idea, as Salinger would become very angry if he noticed a photographer lurking near him.
Salinger was not from New England. He was born in New York City in 1919, his father a Jewish businessman and his mother Scots-Irish. While obvioulsy very bright, he was a poor student. He flunked out of several schools in New York and was finally sent to Valley Forge Military Academy, graduating in 1936. He dropped out of New York University and Ursinus College, moving back to New York to live with his parents. While in New York, he took writing courses at Columbia University and was fortunate enough to be taught by a writer who recognized Salinger's talent and published Salinger's story "The Young Folks" in 1941. "The New Yorker" agreed to publish another story in 1942, but postponed publication until 1946. This story "Slight Rebellion off Madison" served as the basis for "The Catcher in the Rye." In 1942, Salinger was drafted into the army. He would write while in the service. He was assigned to counterintelligence and took part in the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. While in the service, he had to be hospitalized for "battle fatigue" i.e. a nervous breakdown. In 1946, "The New Yorker" finally published "Slight Rebellion off Madison". Over the next few years, Salinger's reputation grew He published the mysterious story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" in 1948, a story discussed today. However it was after the publication of "The Catcher in the Rye" in 1951 that he found himself to be famous. The book, while vilified by some, was considered a major piece of writing and stayed on the "New York Times" best seller list for thirty weeks. Even today, thousands of copies are purchased. Many articles have been published about the novel and the main character, young Holden Caulfield. This book and other stories show Salinger to be the master of symbolism, irony and colloquial speech. He also captured the superficiality of contemporary life, especially in post war America. "The Catcher in the Rye" shocked many adults, Attempts were made to bane the book from libraries--most of these attempts were not successful. Writers such as John Updike were influenced by Salinger.
After the publication of "Nine Stories" in 1953, Salinger retreated to the hills of New England and with a few exceptions kept to himself for over 50 years. In 1972, he had a love affair with a much younger woman, Joyce Maynard. In 1998, Ms. Maynard wrote about her life with Salinger, much to his annoyance. He was married three times, his third wife caring for him until the end. He died at his home in Cornish. He was survived by his wife, son, daughter and three grandchildren.