When J.D. Salinger died a year ago, he was remembered both as a mold-shattering author and as a notorious recluse. But a trove of correspondence Salinger sent to friend Donald Hartog, a Briton whom he met as a teenager in Vienna, paints a different picture. The 50 typed letters and four handwritten postcards — signed "Jerry" — show someone who "enjoyed a simpler life," reports The Guardian, and was not quite the shut-in his fans thought he was. Hartog's daughter, Frances, donated the letters to the University of East Anglia in 2007, and they are being made public to mark the anniversary of Salinger's death. Here, a list of revelations the letters contain:
1. J.D. Salinger, fast-food connoisseur
"There is nothing startling in these letters," says Chris Bigsby, an American studies professor at the University of East Anglia, as quoted by The Guardian, "but that is what is so interesting about them." Salinger's reflections on fast food serve as a prime example: The author wrote to Hartog that he thought Burger King hamburgers were better than those from rival chains. "How's this for a slogan," says Dave Itzkoff at The New York Times: "Have It Your Way, Even if You're the Reclusive Author of What Some Would Argue Is the Greatest Novel of the 20th Century."
2. Salinger the tourist...
The correspondence mostly covers Salinger's day-to-day life, but also describe his travels. "Far from being a curmudgeon who loathed company," says The Telegraph, Salinger enjoyed bus trips to Nantucket, Niagara Falls, and the Grand Canyon, "chatting happily" with fellow retirees "as he took in the sights."
3. ... and tennis fan
Salinger wrote about how much he enjoyed watching tennis on TV. His favorite players included John McEnroe and British tennis star Tim Henman; he expressed hope that Henman would "knock 'em all down" and win Wimbledon in 2006 (he did not). Salinger also shared his taste in music — he liked listening to the Three Tenors, particularly José Carreras.
4. He was a bit of a curmudgeon ...
Less suprisingly, Salinger did have some choice words about politics and publishing. He called Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush "the outgoing dummy and the incoming dummy," and referred to U.S. politicians as "an odious bunch." He also "writes of his disdain for the publishing world and his legal battle to prevent publication" of an unauthorized biography. He credits the "ever-present windfall bonanza" of earnings from his old work with allowing him to spend his last few decades happily writing without the "distraction" of being published.
5. ... but was he really just an all-around nice guy?
Taken as a whole, Salinger's correspondence with his old friend chips away at the notion that he was a misanthropic recluse. "There is tremendous warmth and affection towards my father, and this is so different to how Salinger is often portrayed," says Frances Hartog, as quoted by The Telegraph. "We just knew, says Mike Vilensky at New York, that "all along, Salinger was laughing about having duped fans and the media into leaving him alone, while spending his twilight watching tennis and eating fast food. Genius."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- Sorry, GOP, tax cuts don't pay for themselves
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- Pope Francis' American problem
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Are there dogs in heaven? Let's hope not.
- Hey, bosses: Stop giving bonuses to your employees
- This week I learned your coin toss odds are better than you think, and more
Subscribe to the Week