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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Catcher in the Rye - How it started Farrar Straus Giroux

The Catcher in the Rye  -- Farrar Straus Giroux
Most will view this entry as a page from the life of J.D. Salinger - the author of The Catcher in the Rye (Little Brown, 1951).  But if you engage in a close reading you will see where the beginnings of expansion of the mega publishing firm that became Farrar Straus Giroux.

On July 16, 1951, J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye was published by Little, Brown.  Although the book is about a confused teenager, Holden Caulfield, who has found only disillusionment in the adult world, Salinger never intended the book to be a novel for teens. 
The opening lines of the book do manage to catch the reader right from the start: "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."
Salinger had thought about Holden Caulfield since his early twenties.  While carrying the stories of Caulfield with him Salinger went off to fight in World War II.  He still was thinking about the stories (now six of them) when he was on Normandy Beach, and in Nazi concentration camps, and when he spent hours with Ernest Hemingway while both were in Paris.  Eventually there were nine stories about Caulfield and he compiled them into a manuscript and sent the manuscript off to a publisher at Harcourt, Brace; an editor named Robert Giroux.  Giroux was very interested in the book and sent it off to his boss Eugene Reynal.  Reynal could only focus on the fact that the chief protagonist was a prep-school boy in New York, so Reynal sent the manuscript off to a text book editor.  That editor didn’t like the novel either so Harcourt Brace declined to publish it.  But that was not the end of the book, a rival publisher, Little, Brown quickly accepted the book and published it.  Robert Giroux quit his job and moved to Farrar, Strauss, a firm that Roger W. Straus and John C. Farrar had founded in 1946. In 1964 Robert Giroux's name was added to the roster and the company became Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Catcher in the Rye became an almost immediate hit and went on to become one of the most taught titles in high school classes.  It became a Book of the Month Club selection – but it’s popularity pushed Salinger away from the public to a hilltop cabin in Cornish, New Hampshire. 
Salinger was just 31 years of age when his book hit the book stores.  The following year he married and although he did not ever publish another novel he did continue to write short stories, and in 1963 Franny and Zooey was published; a combination of two earlier New Yorker stories.  However, by 1965, when he was just 44, Salinger was divorced and had stopped publishing work altogether. The publication of “Hapworth 16, 1924,” a 25,000-word story that appeared in the June 19, 1965, issue of The New Yorker effectively ended his writing career.  He lived out the rest of his life as a recluse and at the time of his death on January 27, 2010 (age 91) he was still living in his hilltop cabin in New Hampshire, in the midst of 90 acres that continued to isolate him from the public, and where he had lived in seclusion for the past five decades.   

References for this article include the Writer’s Almanac and Salinger’s New York Times obituary which appeared in the Books section on January 28, 2010.
McGrath, Charles. (28 January 2010) J.D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, dies at 91.  New York: Books.  (WEB)

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