J.D. Salinger, author of 'The Catcher in the Rye,' dead at 91

JD-Salinger_l J.D. Salinger, the American author of The Catcher in the Rye who was once described as “the Greta Garbo of literature,” died yesterday of natural causes at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire. He was 91.

The celebrated author chose to spend the last half-century of his life in virtual seclusion, guarding his privacy with such fervor that he only succeeded in fanning the flames of public curiosity.  As Paul Alexander put it in his book Salinger: A Biography, “He became famous for wanting not to be famous.”  But of course, Salinger’s main claim to fame has always been as the man who wrote The Catcher in the Rye.

First appearing in 1951, Jerome David Salinger’s only published novel introduced the world to Holden Caulfield, a callow, disaffected 16-year-old just expelled from prep school, roaming the streets of Christmastime Manhattan in aimless flight from the parents, teachers, and various other “phonies” of a  button-down grown-up world. With its slangy, free-associating, first-person narrative, the book was a fresh, gutsy blast of literary stylization, flouting everything from Hollywood movies to higher education to “crumby” old life itself. Filled with a kind of wiseguy skepticism, Holden’s voice caught the ear of a young, restless postwar generation, setting the tone for the decade of James Dean, the young Brando, the early Elvis. The book has been rite of passage reading ever since. In July 2009, a federal judge in New York blocked the U.S. publication of Swedish writer Fredrik Colton’s novel 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, depicting an older version of Holden dubbed Mr. C; Salinger had sued, arguing that the book constituted an unauthorized sequel.

“There’s a marvelous peace in not publishing,” he said in a rare 1974 interview. “Publishing is a terrible invasion of privacy …. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.” But if  no more manuscripts are found tucked into a vault, if indeed there are no more brilliant words forthcoming, it’ll do nothing to take away from the artistry that gave us Holden Caulfield and his melancholy bravado, Franny Glass, in her sublimely sophomoric college girl spiritual crisis, and Franny’s eldest brother Seymour, whose exquisitely tragic post-traumatic stress haunts the almost perfect story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”  We may wish Salinger had given us more such enduring characters, and he may have missed true greatness for not having done so. But all things considered, he gave as much of himself as he could. It was more than enough. –Michael Sauter

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Related content:
Stephen King on J.D. Salinger: “Last of the great post-WWII American writers”

Comments (73 total) Add your comment
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  • Shamrock

    Geez, how many people have died this week in the entertainment industry? Lately everytime I click on EW, someone has died.

    • Celia

      I know! I thought celebrities were supposed to die in threes, but lately there are like 10 deaths a week.

    • Juniper

      I know… Howard Zinn yesterday, and Salinger today. It’s a sad time in the literary world. I have to admit, I covered my keyboard in tears after hearing about Howard Zinn. What a wonderful man. And J.D. Salinger was a very talented writer. (Sigh!)

  • anniehall77

    Please locate the space bar on your computer…proof read, please.

    • anniehall77

      I mean proofread…but other than that, beautiful obit.

      • Ambient Lite

        Kind of ironic that you’re playing jr. editor and making mistakes…don’t you think?

      • Philip

        I do believe that Ambient Lite just “pwned” you.

  • Al

    Troy Patterson, please clean this article up! The editing onit isfrustrating to thepointofbeingunreadable!

  • Deb

    Fantastic homage to one of our great authors. Very well researched. Bravo. Very few people know about the Hapworth short story. I read everything he wrote that was published, and it colored my life to a great deal. Several of his phrases sprinkle my daily conversation.

    Maybe now some of those unpublished gems will see the light of day. Long live the Glass family!

  • Hannah

    Zinn and Salinger in one day? Damn.

  • justjack

    I fell in love with Zooey Glass many years ago, and still am. Supremely sad to hear the news of Salinger’s passing.

    • Tafadzwa

      I reserve the right to oenffd, especially on my own blog. Frankly, I think my words are pretty tame; if you think (incorrectly) that my tone is disrespectful, well, you have a the right to say so.My opinion about Smarty is long-held and well-established. I’m just glad to see someone else who agrees with me in general about the need to move away from Smarty, and who is willing to put up a site to popularize that opinion.

  • GoMe!

    Catcher in the Rye was the first book I read where I actually had a strong opinion about the characters (esp. Holden). The book has changed my life, as a writer and as a person. I have to admit, I haven’t read his other books, but I now vow I will read his other books and discover more of the genius that is JD Salinger.

    • Paul

      Most over-rated novel ever. Holden is a whiny rich kid who realizes life isn’t fair. Oh, what a life changing experience!

      • wtf

        Sooooooooooo…how many literary awards have you won?

      • Momo

        Paul didn’t put it so nicely, but I get the gist of what he’s saying. I respect “Catcher in the Rye” and what it did to the literary world, but agree that it was overrated – mainly because there are so many other interesting stories during this time period that didn’t focus on some wealthy white kid that felt “alienated.” Perhaps it’s my immigrant background that makes me not relate to him, who knows. You don’t need a literary award to have an opinion about books.

  • TheObserver

    Damn…2010 is shaping up to be just like 2009….

    • Momo

      At least he lived to the ripe age of 91, and not some drug overdose…”allegedly.”

    • ks

      No kidding!

  • KERA Art&Seek Blog » RIP J.D. Salinger

    [...] Salinger has died at 91.  Begin high school English class flashback now… Posted in: [...]

  • Katharine Mamadjanian

    You should be sued, how dare you disrespect some one in their own obituary. The last few paragraphs were disgusting.

    • Ed

      I didn’t think it was disrespectful at all; it was honest. Relax, pick up your favorite Salinger story, and get lost the wonderful literature he brought into this world.

    • t3hdow

      Did we read the same article? At worst, you could claim the last few paragraphs were pessimistically speculative, but even going that route, it’s far removed from the bombastic disrespect you claimed. If anything, Troy Patterson admires Salinger greatly, even during his more dubious peroids of his life. Maybe you should re-read the article before making such ludicrous claims.

    • Kevin

      I guess this portion has been whitewashed?

      • t3hdow

        Whoa. You’re right. Troy’s obit is half the length of what it was this afternoon. Why did he omit some portions to solely appease a few angry responders? Not all of us thought the original article was offensive. I understand editing the technical errors, but this was overkill.
        To Troy Patterson: as a reader who loved the first (second?) draft, I’m saddened you took Katharine’s harsh and misguided criticism too literally. Your obit was almost perfect the way it was. Why fix what isn’t broke?

  • Q

    Salinger was only a recluse to publicity. I assure you he was NOT locked in a bunker, but in fact a regular visitor to the Dartmouth campus, where he was treated with respect and allowed his privacy. The experience of seeing that was very special. I look forward to reading anything he saw fit to leave for posthumous publication, and am quite confident it will not be “evidence of an early burnout.” And you wonder why he hid?

    • KR

      Oh, what a breath of fresh accuracy does for telling the Salinger story. Thanks, Q : from other voices of the Dartmouth family who knew of Jerry Salinger from his checking in on the varsity baseball team.

  • Luddite

    I’m trying to come up with something to add to that last paragraph and…nothing. Salinger’s work is some of my favorite. I guess I’ll be revisiting it tonight.

    “Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next. Is he never wrong?”

  • crispy

    Good stuff. I am looking forward to reading new Salinger stuff… unless the old coot burned it all on his deathbed.

    • Alexander

      I vote for Attendee, it is all of the above.. Just because one is a reirntgast does not mean that they will attend and an attendee may be a participant but only if they participate. Now, just because you are an attendee, that does not make you a delegate and I personally know some attendees, delegates, reirntgasts and participants who are not learners!

  • Yes

    I saw no disrespect. It’s more of an overview of his career than a obituary really.

  • Ron

    Rest in peace, Mr. Salinger. You are one of my two favorite writers of all time (the other being Hemingway). I have read everything that you published, including “Hapworth 16, 1924.” Of course, my favorite story is “The Catcher in the Rye.” I remember first reading it as a sophomore in high school and thinking, it was the best novel I had ever read in my life! It’s an excellent book on growing up, accepting family tragedies, and learning how to feel like a whole human being again. Some readers think “The Cathcer in the Rye” was about an adolescent learning to accept the phoniness in the post-war world. I beg to differ. I believe it was about an adolescent who had a difficult time accepting the death of his younger brother and as a result, stunting his growth. This is the reason why I felt Holden wanted to be the “catcher in the rye”–so he can catch youngsters before they fall to their doom because he was unable to save his brother, Allie. In any case, “The Cathcer in the Rye” is a masterpiece and should be read by all. Salinger will not be forgotten due to his memorable body of work.

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