It was on this day that The Catcher in the Rye was published back in 1951. The book is about a 16-year-old prep school boy named Holden Caulfield, who is fed up with all the “phonies” and wants to go live in a cabin in California. Salinger took ten years to write this book and it was at one time the most banned book and the most frequently taught book in America.
The book begins with Holden Caulfield saying, “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
And later he says: “I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”
The book earned its share of positive reviews, but some critics weren’t so kind. A few saw the main character of Caulfield and his quest for something pure in an otherwise “phony” world as promoting immoral views. But over time the American reading public ate the book up and The Catcher in the Rye became an integral part of academic literature curriculum. To date the book has sold more than 120 million copies worldwide.
The Catcher in the Rye, set a new course for literature in post-WWII America and vaulted Salinger to the heights of literary fame. For the young writer, who had fiercely boasted in college about his talents, the success he had seemingly craved early in life became something he ran away from once it came.
In 1953, just two years after the publication of Catcher, Salinger pulled up stakes in New York City and retreated to a secluded home in New Hampshire. There, Salinger did his best to cut-off contact with the public and significantly slowed his literary output.
Two collections of his work, Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters—all of which had appeared previously in The New Yorker—were published in book form in the early 1960s. The June 19, 1965, edition of The New Yorker was devoted almost entirely to a new Salinger short story, the 25,000-word Hapworth 16, 1924, a novella in the form of a long letter from seven-year-old Seymour Glass while at summer camp.
His first new work in six years, the novella was almost universally panned. This was the last Salinger piece ever to be published while he was still alive. Despite the lack of published work over the last four decades of his life, Salinger continued to write. Those who knew him said he worked every day and speculation swirled about the amount of work that he may have finished by the time of his death in 2010. In 2013, Shane Salerno and David Shields published a biography of J D Salinger in which they revealed that there are about five unpublished works of his that are scheduled to be released over the next few years.