Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2012
Jerome David Salinger (1919–2010) is almost as famous for not publishing as he is for writing The Catcher in the Rye (1951), the best-known coming of age novel in American literature. His twenty-five-year career as a published author came to an end in June 1965 with the appearance of “Hapworth 16, 1924” in the New Yorker. From that date until his death, Salinger published nothing and went to significant lengths to ensure not only that his existing work was printed only to his exact specifications, but also that none of the stories he deemed unfit to reprint – many of those published in magazines between 1940 and 1948 – appeared in anthologies. He took legal action against the independent publishers of a collection of his early stories in 1974 and later against John David California to block the U.S. publication of Sixty Years Later: Coming through the Rye (2009), an unauthorized sequel to Catcher. These occasional acts of litigation constitute the bulk of Salinger’s public appearances after 1965, even though he continued to write, telling the New York Times in a rare interview, “Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. … I write just for myself.” This comment has led to intense speculation about the fiction that might become available posthumously and has, along with the popularity of Salinger’s existing work, served to keep this very private writer in the public eye.
Salinger’s determined withdrawal did not spare him the attentions of the media and admirers principally because of the enduring reputation of The Catcher in the Rye, his only full-length novel, which has sold more than 60 million copies and been translated into many languages. Consistently attracting critical acclaim, Catcher features in lists of the one hundred best novels of the twentieth century compiled by the Modern Library, Time magazine, and National Public Radio. Its first-person narrative is utterly distinctive and rich in its evocation of the troubled teenager Holden Caulfield. Holden’s informal, intimate testimony creates a strong sense of connection between him and the reader, who is addressed as “you” throughout.