Thomas Beller reveals story of secretive Salinger

Bess Turner, Contributing Reporter

Thomas Beller, a professor in the English department, mused about his long-standing relationship with the work of J.D. Salinger, the subject of his new biography, “J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist.”

“If you want people to stop smoking, one of the methods is to give them an entire carton of cigarettes, and they’ll be cured,” Beller said. “There are so many things about [Salinger], though, that I think are interesting and problematic … he’s almost as famous for his silence as he is for his books.”

When asked why he chose to publish a biography on a man so infamously private, Beller deliberated uncertainly. Beller got his start on Salinger in eighth grade and then began to delve deeper into Salinger’s work in his early twenties.

Finally in his thirties Beller got involved in his first Salinger-themed project, contributing an essay and co-editing the anthology “With Love and Squalor: 13 Writers Respond to the Work of J.D. Salinger,” which was released in October 2001.

“Doing an anthology on one subject has the effect of just expunging your desire of having anything more to do with it,” Beller said.

The author kept Beller’s interest, however. What intrigued him the most was his refusal to be a celebrity. He instead removed himself from the limelight entirely, living out his life as a recluse in New Hampshire.

The task of writing a biography on Salinger was met with trepidation, as the writer valued his privacy above all, and viewed biographies as a violation of that.  

“Any honest account of Salinger has to not just acknowledge that he was a writer who more than almost any other American writer did not want a biography written,” Beller said. “To work with that fact beyond just reporting it, I attempted to make that almost inevitable sense of violation be part of it.”