Based on eight years of exhaustive research and exclusive interviews with more than 200 people - and published in coordination with the international theatrical release of a major documentary film from the Weinstein Company - Salinger is a global cultural event: the definitive biography of one of the most beloved and mysterious figures of the 20th century.
For more than 50 years, the ever elusive author of The Catcher in the Rye has been the subject of a relentless stream of newspaper and magazine articles as well as several biographies. Yet all of these attempts have been hampered by a fundamental lack of access and by the persistent recycling of inaccurate information. Salinger remains, astonishingly, an enigma. The complex and contradictory human being behind the myth has never been revealed.
In the eight years since Salinger was begun, and especially in the three years since Salinger’s death, the authors interviewed on five continents more than 200 people, many of whom had previously refused to go on the record about their relationship with Salinger. This oral biography offers direct eyewitness accounts from Salinger’s World War II brothers-in-arms, his family members, his close friends, his lovers, his classmates, his neighbors, his editors, his publishers, his New Yorker colleagues, and people with whom he had relationships that were secret even to his own family. Shields and Salerno illuminate most brightly the last 56 years of Salinger’s life: a period that, until now, had remained completely dark to biographers.
Provided unprecedented access to diaries, letters, legal records, and secret documents, listeners will feel they have, for the first time, gotten beyond Salinger’s meticulously built-up wall. The result is the definitive portrait of one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century.
First, this is a book that probably comes off better as an audio work rather than a print edition. It is largely a compilation of interviews and letters, which lend themselves to being read aloud. The readers here, especially Campbell Scott are very compelling. Reviews I've read of the print edition complain of the book's length and make it sound like a slog to read. So for those with a choice, the Audible edition is probably the best bet.
As for the content itself, this book cries out for a skilled editor. It is too long and some sections, especially the authors' analysis, could have been cut to make a more readable book. The authors' attempts to imitate Salinger's style are cringe-worthy but fortunately don't dominate the book.
The authors especially go off track in expressing the dubious idea that Salinger's study of Vedanta led him to stop publishing, renounce the world and live a hermit-like existence. The authors seem to think that this is a Vedanta prescription for living. I have been a member of the Vedanta Society for more than a decade and that is not a way of life followed even by the monks, who publish books and travel, give lectures and even have Facebook pages. Being a Vedanta devotee did not stop Christopher Isherwood from living an active gay life in Hollywood while helping translate Vedanta literature, publishing his own novels and memoirs, lecturing at universities and giving press interviews. The SALINGER authors' repeated contention that Vedanta "killed" Salinger's art is just not credible. They misconstrue Vedanta as a monolithic and dogmatic belief system with extreme lifestyle restrictions when it is anything but that. Members of the Vedanta Society as well as monks and nuns are free to follow the spiritual path that resonates with them individually. Anyone who doubts that might want to read Isherwood's MY GURU AND HIS DISCIPLE.
From the many interviews and letters that make up this book, it appears that Salinger did not live the life of a hermit in a cave. He travelled, attended sporting events, corresponded with life-long friends, loved television, and read The New York Times. As several people quoted in the book point out, the myth of Salinger the hermit stemmed mostly from the fact that for many possible reasons, he stopped publishing his stories, avoided press interviews, shunned the New York and L.A. social elite, and wouldn't allow The Catcher in the Rye to be made into a movie. He wasn't a hermit. He was an author who avoided the marketing and media publicity machine that dominates American pop culture.
A good biography of Salinger is yet to be written. This is obviously not it. But for those interested in the man and the artist this book contains a lot of very interesting information.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
Wow, am I glad I got the flu and was too uncomfortable to sleep and had to spend 2 days in bed. This book is GENIUS...the narration is perfection (sometimes multiple casts don't work for me, but this one is done brilliantly) and I have always wanted to know more about the man who wrote Catcher in the Rye, as it has so much significance. I know there is a documentary (that I hope will not be overlooked in favor of Anchorman, Spiderman 10 or some such drivel) coming out this fall and I wanted to read the book first, as the only book of JD Salinger's I have read is "Catcher". Now, I want to read everything...and this book suggests that there are 5 completed manuscripts that are going to start being released in 2015. These books are currently in the custody of his son. JD just did not want any more publicity in his lifetime.
He reminds me of a male version of Harper Lee, only he had more than one book in him.
It is an amazing blend of narrative, insights, real letters (never before published) and voices of those who loved the beloved writer who just wanted to be left in peace, but made pilgrimages to his house anyway, just to be blessed or given direction or were his lovers. Mr. Salinger kept saying "I am a fiction writer...I have nothing to offer you" to the many pilgrims. He participated in D Day and lived through WWII....which is an amazing feat in it's self.... But he was obviously shell shocked (or what we would call today PTSD) and just wanted to live a peaceful life and write. He never wanted our adoration.
We get to hear from his first true love, Oona O'Neill, the saucy daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill, who married Charlie Chaplain over JD and had 8 kids and flaunted their sexuality in JD's face. (that happens early on in the book, and I shall not reveal more)
We get to hear from the few fans who were able to break through his impenetrable wall-o-silence life and exchanged letters with him or published articles about the reclusive author.
Probably most of the facts could be looked up on Wikipedia, but then you miss the chance of listening to one of the greatest books ever recorded!
Five stars isn't enough for this wonderful audiobook.... I would need a whole constellation of stars to do it right...
BRAVO! This is the best book I have heard in a very long time. Totally captivating. But I have to wonder.... is it a novel (as listed here and other places) or a clever biography. You choose.
26 of 28 people found this review helpful
This work lends itself very well to the audio format with superb performances and interpretation by the narrators. It is certainly a documentary format and that seems to be an obstacle for others who have posted comments.
Rich Seeley's review pretty much covers it, "Good biographical details marred by over analysis". I am not a Vedanta devotee, but certainly recognize that the Shields/Solerno team missed the mark when they over and over try to blame religion, particularly eastern philosophies, for "killing" Salinger's art and shaping his idiosyncratic behavior. Their repeated cherry-picking of religious teachings in attempt to explain Salinger's choices are disappointing. Religion is not the cause of anything, rather a symptom of mental health issues and how Salinger dealt with them. These mental health issues certainly had root even before Salinger's war experiences. I found the Shields/Solerno commentary, while at times informative and of merit, a little too certain in its conclusions, presumptuous.
Still, the uneasiness created by the critical interludes of Shields and Solerno is far out-weighed by an incredible range of interviews that reconstruct a significant amount of Salinger's life experiences and give depth to his character. The interviewees are largely respectful and the authors seem to take care in balancing the criticism.
I expect we are years away from a definitive biography, and I, like many, are certainly looking forward to Salinger's writing that is expected to be released beginning in 2015. Until then, with this publication we can make good ground on understanding the person and his work.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Don't try to read this book unless you are a hardcore Salinger devotee willing to sit through hours of tedium to pick up a new factoid or anecdote about this writer of little productivity but huge reputation. I fit that description, so I had no trouble sitting through it, or driving and choring through it, and I considered the 20 hours well spent. I didn't learn a ton I hadn't already picked up about Salinger through various scattered reports and books but it was useful to have it all brought together in one place and to have the reality sorted from the myth.
This book was more a business enterprise than a literary effort and the writers spared little expense in buying permissions, running down sources and hiring expert researchers in the faith their investment would be richly repaid. It is a great resource for the Salinger aficionado. That it is getting such a rough ride critically is mainly due to the authors and publishers' implied promise that it would crack the Salinger mystery and reveal once and for all why he hid out for most of his life and what he did all that time. It doesn't deliver, although it may have gotten closer in its clumsy, over-documented way than any previous attempt.
In the end it is limited by its authors' inability to effectively analyse all the raw data they accumulate. It also falls prey to the fallacy that has defeated many an amateur arts biography in the past--by looking for the answer to the mystery in the personal history of the artist rather than in the work for which he is known. Salinger himself tries repeatedly to give his multitudinous stalkers the key to what they seek by saying "I am a writer of fiction," but Shields and Salerno pay no more attention than the hordes of gawkers who plagued Salinger at his rural New Hampshire hideout.
Although Salerno repeatedly bursts forth with inflated and sophomoric claims about Salinger having shaped the whole course of postwar English literature and being the most important writer of his time, the authors spend very little time trying to analyse just what it was about Salinger's tiny sample of writing that might justify such claims, or what there was about it that made him still such a hot topic half a century after he finished his best work. Too bad, because that is where the answer is to be found.
Salinger was a flawed and nasty human being; these authors and others have now established that beyond doubt. But he wrote a couple of thin books that have bewitched and bedazzled readers around the world like little else. What is there about Nine Stories and Catcher in the Rye that gives them such powers? Salinger may have been a cad and a crackpot in his personal life, but he was a writer of breathtaking talent and stunning technique. He created magic on the page, and that is why we can't forget him. This book throws no light whatever on that.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Would you try another book from David Shields and Shane Salerno and/or the narrators?
The writing is strange, it wanders and Salinger's story is told from many other person's who knew him points of view. It is terribly written and my wife and I turned it off in the car after only 1 hour of listening. I just want a credit back on this one.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
Only if it had been a different experience all together. This book was like diving into a fishbowl of snippets and reading them one by one. Am I the only one who found this audiobook disconcerting? A collage, yes, certainly. Difficult to hear and really difficult to try and put the pieces together, you bet. I thought I wanted to know more about JDS, but not like this. All over the map, it's 1948, then 1953, then 1972, then 1948. Very, very disappointed. The collage was too much for me.
Would you ever listen to anything by David Shields and Shane Salerno again?
I don't know, probably not.
How did the narrator detract from the book?
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
Disappointment. My granddaughter was named Esme after the character in "To Esme with Love and Squalor." Her dad was in Afghanistan when she was born. Therefore I am very interested in the life and times of JDS. Too difficult to try and decipher.
6 of 8 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of Salinger to be better than the print version?
The print edition offered more in the way of information about all the people quoted in the audio version. It had a glossary of the individuals in Salinger's life which was necessary. The audio version could have been enhanced with better description of who was being cited and how they fit in with Salinger's life.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Salinger?
The description of the assault on Utah Beach, the fighting in the Hurtgen forest, the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of the concentration camp was painful but exceptional.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
No. It was too much for one sitting.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I'm pretty sure I would find this book irritating even if I were reading it - more later on that - but this is wholly annoying to listen to. It's mostly epistolary, and that means an endless succession of this pattern: "Letter write/Quote quote quote. New letter writer/Quote quote quote. Author identifies his own voice/Words words words."
So, will I go off and buy the book instead? No, I won't, mostly because the authors are so enormously impressed with their own research that they feel compelled to give us ... ALL of it. So we get letters revealing the most boring, inconsequential details ... constantly.
Two stars is probably generous.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
The book relied on letters, notes and comments from people who knew Salinger and simply read or quoted them. The same theme used to depict the complex character of the author is used over and over. After the first part, I could not go on.
Has Salinger turned you off from other books in this genre?
What didn’t you like about the narrators’s performance?
It was fair, but he had difficult material.
You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?
3 of 5 people found this review helpful
I was very, very impressed with the total success of this book on every level. J.D Salinger, World War II vet, friend of Hemingway, extreme recluse, inspired the shooting of John Lennon... To anyone who enjoyed Catcher in the Rye even half as much as I did, you will not be disappointed by the story behind it one bit.
AUDIBLE 20 REVIEW SWEEPSTAKES ENTRY