J.D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski
An incomplete biography
Status: Reference copy can only be checked out in-house
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD IS THE SUBJECT OF AT LEAST 25 FULL-LENGTH BIOGRAPHIES. William Faulkner has been written about in at least 40. Another 20th-Century American great, Ernest Hemingway, has at least 50 volumes dedicated to his life and times. In contrast with the 100-plus volumes about these canonical American authors, the grand total of J.D. Salinger biographies clocked in, until recently, at two. It took about one year, following his death, for the third to hit bookstore shelves.
“J.D. Salinger: A Life” was written by Kenneth Slawenski, who spent many years researching and compiling information on Salinger and posting it on his website deadcaulfields.com. His book, much like his site, is a wide-ranging, loving and incomplete resource that is more useful for information than it is for insights on an author surrounded by so many questions.
If you really want to hear about it, my review of “J.D. Salinger: A Life” is posted over at AGNI Online.
A Life is clearly the work of one of Salinger’s coveted “amateur readers”—to whom he dedicated his final published collection Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction—and while Slawenski can’t disguise his love of his subject, he manages, with a few slips, to present Salinger without too much sentimental gushing or defensiveness. Unfortunately, Slawenski is also an amateur biographer: aside from World War II, the history around Salinger is relayed by sweeping generalities (“In 1952, most Americans thought their way of life superior to that of Eastern cultures.”)