The Most Fascinating Quotes From J.D. Salinger’s Collected Correspondence


J.D. Salinger might have tried his best to be a reclusive author, but that has never stopped the world at large from developing an endless fascination with him — his work, his personality, the minutiae of his days. This morning, news broke of a new set of letters from the writer, recently acquired by NYC’s Morgan Library & Museum. Though these letters are not available yet to the public, plenty are, and they’re filled with the daily mundanities and sharp insights that flesh out Jerry Salinger: the man. Check out a few fascinating passages from Salinger’s varied correspondence below.

From a series of letters to Marjorie Sheard:

His bravado/insecurity is on full display: “Let’s have no more talk of my New Yorker piece [the very first Holden Caulfield story]. God and Harold Ross alone know what that bunch of pixies on the staff are doing with my poor script.”

On a currently unknown story called “Henry Jesus,” which he said comes “straight from the belly”: “It will doubtless tear the country’s heart out, and return the thing a new and far richer organ… (I’ll probably fail completely with it.)”

After requesting her photo: “Sneaky girl. You’re pretty.” What an awkward flirt!

Perhaps that was part of the reason he was shifty about his relationships: “I was supposed to get married on furlough,” he wrote in 1942 “but she wanted it all said and done at her Daddy’s house in Hollywood. So I picked up where I left off with an old typewriter.” However, according to the Times , Salinger’s biographer “said he could not be certain if this was a veiled reference to Salinger’s relationship with Oona O’Neill, the daughter of the playwright Eugene O’Neill, or to some other matrimonial near miss. Though Salinger and Oona O’Neill dated briefly in the early 1940s, Mr. Slawenski said she did not return his affection and broke his heart when she married Charlie Chaplin. It is more likely, he said, that Salinger was puffing himself up to Ms. Sheard while privately nursing his romantic wounds.”

[via The New York Times ]

From a letter Salinger wrote to Ernest Hemingway from a military hospital in Nuremberg in 1944:

“Nothing was wrong with me except that I’ve been in an almost constant state of despondency and I thought it would be good to talk to somebody sane. They asked me about my sex life (which couldn’t be normaler – gracious!) and about my childhood (Normal)… I’ve always liked the Army … There are very few arrests left to be made in our section. We’re now picking up children under ten if their attitudes are snotty. Gotta get those ole arrest forms up to Army, gotta fatten up the Report.”

“How is your novel coming? I hope you’re working hard on it. Don’t sell it to the movies. You’re a rich guy. As Chairman of your many fan clubs, I know I speak for all the members when I say Down with Gary Cooper.”

“I’d give my right arm to get out of the Army, but not on a psychiatric, this-man-is-not-fit-for-the-Army-life ticket. I have a very sensitive novel in mind, and I won’t have the author called a jerk in 1950. I am a jerk, but the wrong people mustn’t know it.”

[via Huffington Post]

From a 1982 letter to close friend Janet Eagleson:

“The more I age, senesce, the more convinced I am that our chances of getting through to any intact sets of reasons for the way things go are nil. Oh, we’re allowed any number of comically solemn assessments — the burning of ‘Rosebud’ the adored sled, or, no less signally, the burning of the new governess’s backside — but all real clues to our preferences, stopgaps, arrivals, departures, etc. remain endlessly hidden. The only valid datum, anywhere, I suspect, is the one the few gnanis adamantly put forward: that we’re not who or what we thing [sic] we are, not persons at all, but susceptible to myriad penalties for thinking we’re persons and minds… As for Sarah I don’t think I want to be around when or if that proud kid is ever tipped off, eight or ten or twenty years from now, that she was once callow enough to use a vogue word like ‘challenge’ in reference to anything, let alone some damn school… Interesting, and probably very good, as things go, about your distributorships—the nutritional stuff, I mean. It may only be a dream body, but it seems to me a good idea to feed it the best dream food… I’m o.k., I think, and so is Matthew, thanks for asking. He’s in California, at the moment. Talking to actors’ agents, etc. My other kid, Peggy, is off to Oxford for two years, on some sort of academic scholarship. She and her mother are looking rather exalted about it. Exemplary achievers, both of them, mother and daughter. I agree with you, of course, about the No Nukes bunch. Quiche and Volvo liberals, right. Liberals all, shitheads mostly, I agree absolutely. Pious champions of the new Ethnicity. Pass out recorders, bumper stickers, signed photographs of Lauren Bacall’s cousin’s attorney in small plastic buttons. Busy bringing in firewood. Had a good garden this year. Planted a lot of kale and collard greens, which aren’t all that delicious, really, but are innocuous enough in soups, stews, and flourish right through until snow covers the row. Brussel [sic] sprouts, too. Suitable for undesirable English guests. I’m in the middle of some legal action, irritating and wearing, and probably hopeless. Meaning that no sooner is one opportunist and parasite dealt with than the next guy turns up. Some prick took out a whole page ad in the Sunday Times Book Section, pretending it was me or my doing. It, too, shall pass, no doubt, as Louis B. Mayer once said, but it would be nice to know when.”

[via icollector]

From a 1981 letter to Janet Eagleson:

Salinger hated Raiders of the Lost Ark but loved Catherine Deneuve: “The sight of summer in full swing has put me off ever since I can remember. Oddly, I work nicely or at least normally amidst all the greening and flowering and burgeoning. But correspondence falls off, goes to pot…on top of everything, the woodshed crew…have been here…leaving me rattly and pale, but with a shelter of sorts for some twenty cords of wood. As ugly a structure as any I’ve seen, with lots of shitty little space-filling fancy scroll-y crosspieces, said to be ‘functional’. No doubt it will take an esthetic turn for the better with a couple of good hard winters. I took the morning bus into Boston…to do what I almost never do…went to see some particular pictures in a gallery. The Pissarro exhibit…Have seen no good movies, except The Last Metro, which wasn’t exactly indelibly fine, but Deneuve herself maybe was, or came close. I got hooked into seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark, which might be excused for its unwitty, unfunny awful socko-ness if it had been put together by Harvard Lampoon seniors. I’ll coast on the Deneuve performance the rest of the summer. She was always a good actress, but had never seen her with all this much restraint and finesse.”

[via The Sly Oyster]

From a letter Salinger wrote to Esquire, which was publishing one of his short stories:

“I am twenty-six and in my fourth year in the Army… I’ve been writing short stories since I was fifteen. I have trouble writing simply and naturally. My mind is stocked with some black neckties, and though I’m throwing them out as fast as I find them, there will always be a few left over. I am a dash man and not a miler, and it is probable that I will never write a novel. So far the novels of this war have had too much of the strength, maturity and craftsmanship critics are looking for, and too little of the glorious imperfections which teeter and fall off the best minds. The men who have been in this war deserve some sort of trembling melody rendered without embarrassment or regret. I’ll watch for that book.”

[via Esquire ]

On why he wouldn’t sell the film rights to The Catcher in the Rye, 1957:

“Since there’s an ever-looming possibility that I won’t die rich, I toy very seriously with the idea of leaving the unsold rights to my wife and daughter as a kind of insurance policy. It pleasures me no end, though, I might quickly add, to know that I won’t have to see the results of the transaction.”

The Catcher in the Rye is a very novelistic novel. There are readymade “scenes” — only a fool would deny that — but, for me, the weight of the book is in the narrator’s voice, the non-stop peculiarities of it, his personal, extremely discriminating attitude to his reader-listener, his asides about gasoline rainbows in street puddles, his philosophy or way of looking at cowhide suitcases and empty toothpaste cartons — in a word, this thoughts. He can’t legitimately be separated from his own first-person technique. True, if the separation is forcibly made, there is enough material left over for something called an Exciting (or maybe just Interesting) Evening in the Theater. But I find that idea if not odious, at least odious enough to keep me from selling the rights.”

“Holden Caulfield himself, in my undoubtedly super-biassed [sic] opinion, is essentially unactable. A Sensitive, Intelligent, Talented Young Actor in a Reversible Coat wouldn’t be nearly enough. It would take someone with X to bring it off, and no very young man even if he has X quite knows what to do with it. And, I might add, I don’t think any director can tell him.”

[via Collider]

A 1962 letter from Salinger in response to a young fan:

“I must tell you first, offputtingly or no, that I am at best a one-shot letter writer, these days. Along with that, I really never have anything to say when I’m done writing fiction at the end of a day. One thought, and one only, hits me about your letter. Entirely “materialistic,” I’m afraid. You need a new typewriter ribbon. Get one or don’t get one, but unless you make an effort to deal with things as unabstractly as that, you’re stewing quite unnecessarily. You’ve decided that Things are what matter to people. Of course. Not only with “people” but with you, too. Everything in your letter is a thing, concrete or abstract. Avidya and vidya are things. For me, before anything else, you’re a young man who needs a new typewriter ribbon. See that fact, and don’t attach more significance to it than it deserves, and then get on with the rest of the day. Good wishes to you.”

[via Eoin Butler]

From a letter Salinger sent to a friend, along with his copy of his favorite book, The Landsmen by Peter Martin:

“Sorry, genuinely, to have taken so long to accomodate [sic]. The delay hasn’t been deliberate. I suspect that, unaware, I’m reluctant to risk lending books I value. That said, I hope you read on with pleasure.”

[via Stirrup Queens]

The note Salinger wrote to his maid in 1989:

“Dear Mary — Please make sure all the errands are done before you go on vacation, as I do not want to be bothered with insignificant things. Thank you. J.D. Salinger”

It’s currently on sale for $50,000.

[via TIME]