Saturday 3 December 2016

Cracckpot... Or the American tolstoy?

Published 05/02/2011 | 05:00

When JD Salinger died in 2010, obituaries stressed his importance as a writer but also insisted that he had 'a deep distrust of the world'.

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He was, we were told, Howard Hughes-like. The New York Times suggested that he was either a crackpot or the American Tolstoy. There is a blurred photograph of him, holding his hand across his face as though to blank out the world.

Now there is a new account, wholly at odds with this portrait. What emerges from these letters is a man who, far from having a distrust of the world, went out into it.

This Salinger goes to restaurants, concerts, galleries, the theatre. He describes flying to London in hopes of seeing Chekhov plays or something by Alan Ayckbourn, and visiting Covent Garden because his wife Colleen had a liking for My Fair Lady.

Today, we expect our writers to be public figures. He had no interest in that. He distrusted the media and hated the idea of a biography, but he was scarcely alone in that.

He wished simply to write without the distraction of publication. He was not, though, at least as revealed in these letters, a crazed hermit.

He liked his privacy but he also went out into the world and took great pleasure in doing so.

Christopher Bigsby is Professor of American Studies at the University of East Anglia

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