Like character, like creator: Why J.D. Salinger doesn't want you to celebrate his 100th birthday

The author of 'The Catcher in the Rye' hated birthdays and holidays

Salinger-the-catcher J.D. Salinger and the cover of his most famous work 'The Catcher in the Rye' | via Commons

In the book 'My Salinger Year', a memoir set in 1990s New York and its literary circles, the author-protagonist Joanna Rakoff lands her first job in a publishing agency which handles the account of the formidable J.D. Salinger.

Jerry—as Jerome D. Salinger is called in the old-fashioned literary agency, still hooked to dictaphones and typewriters—is their most difficult, most feared, most revered author. Responding to fervent, heart-wrenching Salinger fan mails is a separate job altogether. While the barrage of letters were predestined for the trash can, the agency insisted on having the letters read by someone at least once, followed by a standard pre-written response. The people at the agency half-feared missing on any suspicious, psychopathic traits in the hundreds of letters they received from Salinger fans obsessed with his book 'The Catcher in the Rye'. After all, the man who shot and killed John Lennon began reading from the famous novel five minutes into the murder. The killer identified with the funny, conflicted, angsty, crazy and disaffected lead of 'The Catcher', Holden Caulfield. So Rakoff is expressly instructed by the boss on day 1 of her new job, "you must never – never, never, never – give out his address or phone number."

Born on January 1, 1919, late American writer J.D. Salinger would have turned 100 this year. But one would be well advised not to ring in the centenary year celebrations. For, the author, most popular for his 1951 book 'The Catcher in The Rye'—his only published novel—was an infamous recluse who shunned contact with the outside world after his novel was published. Some say he dismissed the trappings of celebrityhood, just like Caulfield, the angry young teenager from 'The Catcher' who said "Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell," and who considered the larger world "phony" and "lousy" at best. Others point out how he was already jaded and disillusioned after being drafted into the US Army for World War II during which he met Ernest Hemingway who inspired Salinger to start writing.

Salinger wrote 'The Catcher' after the War ended, endearing millions of readers to the famous opening sentence in the book. “If you really want to know 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.” Schools in the US either banned his book or made it prescribed reading. Till date, more than 70 million copies have been sold. But Salinger's literary corpus is made up of this one famous novel and 13 short stories, all published before 1965.

Salinger stopped interacting with the press in 1980 and sued a biographer for publishing letters he addressed to his fans in the case Salinger v. Random House. “I’ve borne all the exploitation and loss of privacy I can possibly bear in a single lifetime,” Salinger wrote to his persistent biographer he sued. His daughter Margaret Salinger's memoir was an embarrassing tell-all where she alleged her neurotic, insensitive father dabbled in Scientology, homeopathy and drank his own urine.

The author disapproved of any adaptations or spin-offs of 'The Catcher' and took great pains to prohibit them through legal means. As The Washington Post reported recently, "There are no e-book or audio versions of any of the books he published."

When a special series of reissues of Salinger's books was announced last year by Little, Brown and Company in the run up to the centennial, his son Matthew Salinger said, “My father hated birthdays, holidays, and pretty much any planned or culturally mandated celebrations, and he’d certainly hate this centennial."