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"What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours." - J.D. Salinger

J.D. SalingerJerome David Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, was born on January 1, 1919 in New York City to a Jewish father and a half-Scottish, half-Irish mother. He graduated from Valley Forge Military Academy in 1936 and then studied at New York University for a year before dropping out to work as an entertainer on a cruise ship. The following year he joined the meat-importation business where his father worked, and was sent to Austria, which he left just one month before Hitler invaded in March 1938. On his return, he attended Ursinus College for a very short time where he was purportedly labeled "the worst English student in the history of the College" by a professor. In 1939 he took an evening class in writing at Columbia University; his teacher was Whit Burnett, editor of Story Magazine who published Salinger's debut story in Story Magazine in 1940.

Salinger was drafted into the 4th Infantry Division in 1942 and served until 1946. Fluent in French and German he saw action on Utah Beach on D-Day and at the Battle of the Bulge before being assigned to Counter-Intelligence where he interrogated prisoners of war. He was one of the first soldiers to enter a liberated concentration camp and much later told his daughter that "You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose entirely, no matter how long you live." He stayed with the army in Germany for about six months after the war, and met and married a German woman who he met while interrogating her. She returned with him to the USA but the marriage broke up shortly afterwards.

During and after the war he published stories, some of which drew on his wartime experiences. The first collection of these, For Esme - With Love and Squalor, was published in 1953. All the stories in the collection had formerly appeared in the New Yorker which was where the majority of his stories after 1948 were first published following the success of "A Perfect Day For Bananafish" published in the New Yorker in 1948. Further collections followed in 1961 and 1963.

He is best known for his first and only published novel, The Catcher in the Rye, which was published in 1951 and remains extraordinarily popular even today (about 250,000 copies were sold in 2000). Catcher in the Rye was not the first time Salinger had written about Holden Caulfield, who had first appeared in a semi-autobiographical story titled "Slight Rebellion Off Madision" which the New Yorker accepted in 1942 but did not publish until 1946.

Following the publication of Catcher In The Rye, Salinger gradually withdrew from public life, moving from New York to Cornish, New Hampshire and keeping to himself. In 1955 he married a Radcliffe student, Claire Douglas, who dropped out of school four months before graduation at his request. They had two children, Margaret and Matthew, but due to Salinger's desire for isolation they rarely saw people. Margaret was sick much of the time but Salinger, a Christian Scientist at the time, refused to take her to a doctor. The marriage ended in divorce in 1965.

His last published story was "Hapworth 16, 1924" in The New Yorker in 1965. During the 1970s there were reports that he was due to publish another novel and in Salinger is said to have told a friend that he had recently finished "a long, romantic book set in World War II."

Salinger is currently married to his third wife, Colleen O'Neill, 40 years his junior. In 2000, his daughter, Margaret Salinger published Dream Catcher: A Memoir, in which she described her father as keeping her mother a "virtual prisoner", but also describes him as far from reclusive, traveling often and having friends all over the world - in short, a bon vivant in every sense except when it comes to his family and matters of publicity.

Did you know?

  • Apparently Mark David Chapman was carrying a copy of The Catcher in the Rye when he assassinated John Lennon on December 8, 1980; and John Hinckley, Jr., who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan, was reported to be obsessed by the novel.
  • It is said that Salinger, now 88, still spends a few hours every morning writing and has several safes containing manuscripts.
  • Salinger's son, Matt, is a stage actor and director who starred in the 1991 movie, Captain America.

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