It was on this day in 1951 that the J.D. Salinger's first and only novel,
The Catcher in the Rye, was published (books by this author). Salinger had
started his career as a writer back in 1940, at a time when the short
stories published in magazines were still one of the most popular forms of
entertainment in the United States. Salinger published a number of short
stories in the group of magazines known as "the slicks," magazines that
included The Saturday Evening Post, Mademoiselle, Good Housekeeping, and
Collier's. But the magazine that he most wanted to publish a story in was
The New Yorker.

In 1941, Salinger sent The New Yorker a story called "Slight Rebellion Off
Madison," about a troubled teenager named Holden Caulfield and The New
Yorker bought it. "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," was not written in
Holden Caulfield's voice; it was narrated in the third person. In one of
the first descriptions of Holden Caulfield, Salinger wrote, "While riding
on Fifth Avenue buses, girls who knew Holden often thought they saw him
walking past Saks' or Altman's or Lord & Taylor's, but it was usually
somebody else."

The story was about Holden's date with a girl named Sally Hayes. He
complains to her that that he hates everything about New York, including
buses and taxi cabs and movies, but eventually he calms down and tells her
that he'll come to her house and help her trim the Christmas tree. The New
Yorker bought the story in November of 1941, and planned to run it in
their Christmas issue.

That December, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and Salinger's story was put on
hold. It was considered too trivial in a time of war. Salinger kept
submitting stories to The New Yorker for the next few years, even as he
was drafted into the Army, but his stories kept getting rejected.

At the start of his Army enlistment, Salinger was stationed in England, so
he didn't see any combat. He was still able to write and submit short
stories for publication, and he published a series of stories about Army
life. He told his agent that he was working on a set of stories about
Holden Caulfield, but he didn't want to publish any of them because he
thought he could put them together in a novel. Then, in June of 1943,
Salinger learned that he would be deployed in the ground force invasion of
Normandy on D-Day.

Salinger's division hit the beach in the fifth hour of the invasion, and
for the next several months Salinger saw some of the bloodiest fighting of
the war, including the Battle of the Bulge. Between 50 and 200 soldiers in
his division were killed or wounded every day. At the end of the war,
Salinger checked into an Army general hospital in Nuremberg, suffering
from a nervous breakdown. He spent several months recuperating.

It was after Salinger's release from the hospital that he sent out for
publication the first Holden Caulfield story narrated by Holden Caulfield
himself, a story called "I'm Crazy." It was published in Collier's in
December of 1945. One year later, in 1946, The New Yorker finally
published "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," which they had been holding onto
since before the war began. J.D. Salinger had finally become a New Yorker
writer, something he'd been dreaming of for more than a decade.

Salinger continued publishing short stories for the rest of the 1940s,
most of them in The New Yorker, and in 1949, the editor Robert Giroux
wrote him to ask if he wanted to publish a collection of short stories.
Giroux didn't hear back from Salinger for months, and then, one day,
Salinger walked into his office.

Giroux said, "A tall, sad-looking young man with a long face and deep-set
black eyes walked in, saying, 'It's not my stories that should be
published first, but the novel I'm working on … about this kid in New
York during the Christmas holidays.'" Giroux said he'd love to publish it,
but when it was finished one of his superiors thought the kid in the book
seemed too crazy. So Salinger published The Catcher in the Rye with
Little, Brown and Company, and it came out on this day in 1951.

The New York Times ran a review titled "Aw, the World's a Crumby Place"
that poked fun at Salinger's style. The New Yorker refused to run any
excerpts of the novel, because they said that the children in it were
unbelievably intelligent, and the style of the novel was too "showoffy."
But despite the mixed reviews, The Catcher in the Rye reached the
best-seller list after being in print just two weeks, and it stayed there
for more than six months. It has gone on to sell more than 60 million
copies. It has been at one time or another both the most banned book in
America and one of the most assigned books in American classrooms.

from Writer's Almanac