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Did J.D. Salinger's quest for anonymity make him all the more famous?

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With J.D. Salinger’s death, the famous veil over his private life is finally lifting a crack and providing new insights into the man behind the books. Not new insights about the affair with the impressionable teenager, or about odd dietary habits – those were discussed years ago in separate memoirs by former lover Joyce Maynard and daughter Margaret Salinger.

Ironically, what we’re seeing now are the normal daily details of Salinger’s life. They’re not the stuff of scandalous memoir – but, until now, they’ve been protected even more devoutly.

Until last year, reported the Rutland Herald, “Salinger was a regular at the Hartland Congregational Church's roast beef suppers, arriving more than two hours early for the first seating. He would bring along back issues of the Times and sit with other, mostly older, early birds waiting for the doors to open so he could claim the same seat at the head of the table nearest the pie rack.” The Herald said that Salinger attended movies at Dartmouth and read at Hanover’s Howe Library. He handed out pencils for Halloween one year when he forgot to buy treats.

He could, The New York Times told us, regularly be spotted shopping at Price Chopper. The Boston Globe let us know that he ate at the Windsor Diner across the Connecticut River in Vermont, “his profile defined by lights inside as he sat in a window booth overlooking Route 5.”

None of this adds, of course, to our true knowledge of a man who so notably wanted to be unknowable. But it does have the odd effect of humanizing Salinger, bringing him back down from legend to mortal. It makes me wonder how aggressively the public would have sought after him all these years, almost as fascinated by his personal life as his work, if the stranglehold on revealing such facts had been lifted earlier. He had every right to try and maintain that curtain of secrecy, but it inflamed curiosity about him to even greater levels, granting him a double-dose of unwanted fame.

I wonder if in the end it caused more trouble than he gained in return.

Rebekah Denn blogs at eatallaboutit.com.


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