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The secret letters of JD Salinger

The author of The Catcher in The Rye retreated from the public eye in 1953 and lived a hermit-like existence, rarely venturing from his remote New Hampshire home and rebuffing anyone who had the temerity to attempt conversation.

Or so everyone thought. For it turns out that the world's most celebrated literary recluse was not so reclusive after all. Far from being a curmudgeon who loathed company, Salinger enjoyed coach trips to Nantucket, Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, chatting happily to fellow pensioners as he took in the sights.

He even crossed the Atlantic to Britain several times to visit Whipsnade Zoo, take in an Alan Ayckbourn play and go for dinner at the Savoy.

Previously unpublished letters from Salinger to a British friend reveal fascinating details of his hidden life. The letters cover the most unlikely subjects, from his preferred choice of fast food establishment (Burger King) to his love of British television series (Upstairs Downstairs was a favourite but he didn't think much to Band of Gold).

He had a passion for tennis and an admiration for Tim Henman, saying it would be nice if the British player "knocked 'em all down" and won the 2006 Wimbledon championship. He praised Henman's mother and father for not being "professional tennis parents".

He referred to Ronald Reagan and George Bush in 1988 as "the outgoing dummy and the incoming dummy", and to US politicians as "an odious bunch".

A 1990 trip to Niagara Falls was "oddly pleasing" and his fellow tourists were "more often than not interesting and nice company", although he noted that they were rather overweight.

He described his own appearance in 1986 as "white-haired and creasy".

The cache of 50 typed letters and four handwritten postcards date from 1986-2002 and the recipient was Donald Hartog, who met Salinger in 1937 when they were both 18 and studying German in Vienna. They remained friends for life.

Salinger died in January last year, aged 91. Mr Hartog, a food importer from London, died in 2007 and the letters -- signed "Jerry" -- passed to his daughter, Frances.

She has donated them to the University of East Anglia, where they will be placed on public display.

Ms Hartog said: "The letters are very touching and they are written very much in the style of his books -- casual but using exactly the right words. There is tremendous warmth and affection towards my father and this is so different to how Salinger is often portrayed."

Ms Hartog met Salinger in April 1989 when he came over to attend her father's 70th birthday dinner. She said: "I didn't really want to meet him because I liked his writing and was worried he might live up to his reputation and be rather unpleasant, but he wasn't at all, he was utterly charming."

Salinger's kindness is evident from the letters but he also writes of his disdain for the publishing world and his legal battle to prevent publication of an unauthorised biography. He never recovered from the attention that greeted the publication of The Catcher in The Rye in 1951.

In 1991, he wrote to Mr Hartog of the "ever-present windfall bonanza" of earnings from his old work and said he had spent the past 25 years happily writing without the "distraction" of being published.

His wealth meant he did not have to publish anything "unnecessarily or prematurely or even posthumously if it seems a sound idea not to".

A year later, his house in the tiny town of Cornish was devastated by a fire that killed his two greyhounds. He and his wife, Colleen, escaped unharmed and he called it "a larger than life miracle" that firefighters were able to put out the blaze before it reached his work.

Fans hope some of it will eventually see the light of day.

Indo Review