Since its publication in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye has spawned catchphrases, book-banning campaigns, unauthorized sequels, and untold millions of padded high school English class essays. Still, there might be some facts left that weren’t covered in said English class.
1. THE BOOK'S INITIAL PUBLISHER THOUGHT HOLDEN CAULFIELD WAS INSANE.
Before writing Catcher in the Rye, author J.D. Salinger was in talks with Harcourt, Brace and Company about potentially publishing a collection of his short stories. Salinger suggested they publish his new novel instead. His editor, Robert Giroux, loved it—but Giroux's boss, Eugene Reynal, thought Holden Caulfield was crazy. "Gene said, 'The kid is disturbed,'" Giroux later told The Paris Review, continuing,
I said, 'Well, that’s all right. He is, but it’s a great novel.' He said, 'Well, I felt that I had to show it to the textbook department.' 'The textbook department?' He said, 'Well, it’s about a kid in prep school isn’t it? I’m waiting for their reply.' ... The textbook people’s report came back, and it said, 'This book is not for us, try Random House.' So I went to Mr. Brace. I gave him the whole story. I said, 'I feel that I have to resign from the firm.' I hadn’t got in touch with Salinger because I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. ... He didn’t read the book. Mr. Brace was a wonderful man, but he had hired Reynal and would not overrule him. ... That’s when I decided to leave Harcourt.
The book would later be published by Little, Brown and Company.
2. SALINGER READ THE BOOK OUT LOUD FROM START TO FINISH TO THE NEW YORKER'S FICTION EDITOR.
Before Harcourt, Brace's rejection, Salinger had his short story "The Boy in the People Shooting Hat" turned down by The New Yorker, who wrote to him saying "it has passages that are brilliant and moving and effective, but we feel that on the whole it's pretty shocking for a magazine like ours." When Salinger finally finished The Catcher in the Rye, he drove to New Yorker Fiction Editor William Maxwell's house and read him the story from start to finish. As for "The Boy in the People Shooting Hat"? It essentially became chapters three through seven in The Catcher in the Rye.
3. SALINGER MADE HIS PUBLISHERS REMOVE HIS PHOTO FROM THE BOOK.
A black-and-white photograph of Salinger took up the entire back cover of The Catcher in the Rye's first two printings. Growing warier of his escalating fame, Salinger demanded his publishers remove his photograph from the book starting with its third printing. Earlier, he'd told an interviewer: "Let's say I'm getting good and sick of bumping into that blown-up photograph of my face on the back of the dust-jacket. I look forward to the day when I see it flapping against a lamp post, in a cold, wet Lexington Avenue wind."
4. THE BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH CLUB ASKED SALINGER TO CHANGE THE TITLE.
Before publication, The Catcher in the Rye was selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club to be shipped out to its thousands of subscribers, nearly guaranteeing that it would become an instant bestseller. One caveat, though, was that the club wanted Salinger to change his book's name. Salinger declined, writing to them that "Holden Caulfield wouldn't like that."
5. IT WASN'T UNANIMOUSLY PRAISED UPON RELEASE.
While initial reviews of The Catcher in the Rye were almost overwhelmingly positive, a handful of critics were not amused. The Christian Science Monitor claimed the book was "not fit for children to read" and called Caulfield "preposterous, profane and pathetic beyond belief."
6. SALINGER STARTED THE BOOK AFTER BEING RELEASED FROM A MENTAL HOSPITAL.
Multiple scholars view Holden's alienation as a veiled response to what Salinger had witnessed as a soldier in World War II, where he spent 11 months advancing on Berlin. Shortly after the German surrender, he checked himself into a mental hospital. Not long after he left, he wrote the first story narrated by Holden Caulfield. "I'm Crazy" was published in Collier's in December 1945.
7. THERE WAS A PULP-FICTION EDITION IN THE 1950S.
In the 1950s, it was common practice to reissue "serious" books as pulp paperbacks, designed to attract readers more interested in crime or romance fiction. The Catcher in the Rye was pulp-ified in 1953, with the slogan "this unusual book may shock you, will make you laugh and may break your heart—but you will never forget it." The cover featured a man soliciting a prostitute.
8. THERE ARE MULTIPLE THEORIES ON HOW SALINGER CAME UP WITH THE NAME HOLDEN CAULFIELD.
Some think Salinger got it from Holden Bowler, a shipmate of Salinger's during the war; others believe it came from glimpsing the marquee for the movie Dear Ruth (which starred William Holden and Joan Caulfield). Another theory holds that Holden was a nickname given to Salinger himself by his shipmates.
9. IT MADE SWEAR-WORDS MAINSTREAM.
Just three years before The Catcher in the Rye was published, Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead was published with all instances of f**k rendered as "fug." Holden's comparatively profligate profanity was a revelation at the time, and contributed to the book's eventual status as one of the century's most-banned.
10. THERE IS A PREQUEL OF SORTS TO IT.
In 1949, Salinger was set to publish "The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls" in Harper's Bazaar, but withdrew it before publication. The story, which is about the death of Holden's older brother, was donated to Princeton University on the condition that it not be published until 50 years after Salinger's death, in 2060. But in 2013, it and two other unpublished stories were scanned and leaked online.
11. JOHN LENNON'S MURDERER WAS OBSESSED WITH IT.
When the police arrived at the scene of John Lennon's murder, they found 25-year-old Mark David Chapman reading aloud from The Catcher in the Rye. He'd bought a copy of the book—his favorite—en route to murder John Lennon; in it he wrote "This is my statement," and signed as Holden Caulfield. The next year, police found a copy of The Catcher in the Rye at the home of John Hinckley Jr. after he attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan.
12. IT MIGHT'VE POPULARIZED "SCREWED UP" AND "LMAO."
13. ITS UNAUTHORIZED SEQUEL WAS BANNED FROM PUBLICATION IN THE U.S.
In 2009, author Fredrik Colting, writing under the pseudonym John David California, published an unauthorized "sequel" to The Catcher in the Rye in the U.K. calling it a "literary commentary on Catcher and the relationship between Holden and Salinger." Salinger died in the process of suing Colting for copyright infringement, but he had succeeded in getting Judge Deborah Batts of the New York District Court to claim the book "contains no reasonably discernable [sic] rejoinder or specific criticism of any character or theme of Catcher."
Additional source: Salinger (2013)