J.D. Salinger‘s novel The Catcher in the Rye was published on this date in 1951 (books by this author). It is Salinger’s only novel. It’s one of the most banned books in American history. It’s also one of the most frequently taught in high schools, even though Salinger didn’t intend the book for teenage readers. Holden Caulfield, the book’s protagonist, is a prep school boy from New York City, and he addresses the reader directly. The novel begins, “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 for years. He carried six Caulfield stories with him when he went off to fight in World War II. The stories were with Salinger on the beach at Normandy and in Nazi concentration camps. They were with him in the hours he spent with Ernest Hemingway in Paris. By the time Salinger began to assemble the novel The Catcher in the Rye, he had nine stories about Holden and his family.
When he finished the manuscript, Salinger sent it to publisher Robert Giroux at Harcourt, Brace. Giroux was impressed with the book, and was pleased to be its editor, but he never thought it would be a best-seller. Giroux sent the book to his boss, Eugene Reynal. Reynal didn’t really get it, and sent it to a textbook editor for his opinion, since it was about a prep-school boy. The textbook editor didn’t like it, so Harcourt, Brace would not publish it. Rival house Little, Brown picked it up right away, and Robert Giroux quit his job and went to work for Farrar, Strauss instead. Reviewers called the book “brilliant,” “funny,” and “meaningful.” Salinger couldn’t cope with the amount of publicity and celebrity the book gave him. He moved to a hilltop home in New Hampshire and lived the rest of his life in seclusion. Many directors approached Salinger over the years, hoping to obtain the movie rights, and Salinger turned them all down.