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Author Margaret Salinger and 'Dream Catcher'

September 7, 2000
Posted at: 6:45 p.m. EDT

Margaret Salinger, daughter of J.D. Salinger, has written an autobiographical book about her family titled "Dream Catcher: A Memoir." Salinger describes her childhood as the daughter of the famous recluse and author of "Catcher in the Rye." She explores her parentsí lives before her birth and the experiences which inspired her fatherís works.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brandeis University, Margaret Salinger was awarded the Saval-Sachar scholarship for historical research. Salinger also has a M.Phil from Oxford University and attended Harvard Divinity School.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us this morning, Margaret Salinger, and welcome to

Margaret Salinger: Thank you for having me. I look forward to chatting online. This is a new experience for me.

Chat Moderator: Please tell us about your new book, "Dream Catcher."

Margaret Salinger: It's slightly different than the traditional memoir. I wrote my own story first. I'm a historian at heart, and to really understand somebody, I like to put them in context. I did a lot of historical research and a number of interviews with the women in our family, including my father's sister and my mother.

There's a good bit of history that was certainly new to me about growing up in New York in the 20s and 30s as a half-Jew. I discovered a lot of things that I didn't know about anti-Semitism in America that took a lot of my father's, what I'd considered to be idiosyncrasies, and really made sense of them, put them in a context.


For example, in his books, he rails against Ivy Leagues and, in person, he has been quoted as saying, "I break out in a rash anytime I'm too close to Ivy," referring to Ivy Leagues. I always assumed this was one of daddy's things, one of his hot buttons. All of our parents have hot buttons.

But when I discovered the tremendous anti-Semitism that existed on the part of most respected and vocal persons in our society in the 20s and 30s, heads of universities -- about quota systems and the way they sound in a wonderful book called "Anti-Semitism in America" -- what was fascinating was what people said when they tried to say nice things about a Jew. This book had letters of recommendation for their Jewish students applying for jobs, who then became famous historians. They would say things like, "He's one of the few Jews that doesn't get on one's nerves." Or, "He's white in every way."

So, in many ways, the historical research I did took the man off the pedestal of this sort of myth that he sprang from nowhere, that he is a recluse not attached to any family or community or background, and put him squarely in the realm of human beings, which is not a bad place to be.

I think you dehumanize someone when they are on a pedestal, and they become a projection of one's wishes, rather than who they really are.

Question from Elliemk: Why did you choose to write the book and have it published before your father died, instead of waiting until he died so he wouldn't be so upset?

Margaret Salinger: I think that's a very good question, and it's one that I thought long and hard about. I came to the conclusion that it would be cowardly of me. It felt a bit like stabbing someone in the back to talk about someone after they're dead. It seems dirty pool to me. I'd rather have someone say something to my face than behind my back.

I think intelligent people, moral people, can disagree and would come up with a different conclusion and feel it was the right thing to do to wait until he died. It felt wrong to me. After long thought, it felt like the right thing to do, to do it now while, if he wishes to, I can still take the heat.

Question from Tribe: Ms. Salinger, have you been in contact with your father? If not, is that your reason for a tell-all?

Margaret Salinger: First of all, I don't think it is a tell-all. I was speaking with Susan Stamburg from NPR the other day, and she said someone asked her if this was a "daddy dearest," which is what you think of with a tell-all. She said she thought it was a "daddy-why?" It's more an ask-all than tell-all, asking questions.

I have not been in contact with him since it hit the press that the book was coming out. Call me chicken. There hasn't been any formal, "Oh, we're not talking to each other." I want to wait until his anger subsides some, and he's had a chance to read the book, and then we'll see what happens.

Question from I: Ms. Salinger, is there an expectation to be a writer when you have a parent that is a writer? And was that a motivation to write a biography?

Margaret Salinger: Quite the opposite, I think. Certainly, in my family, that was what Daddy did. I didn't take English classes. I didn't do creative writing. It was trespassing on his turf. I did everything else BUT.

So, in a sense, becoming a writer was really, as one journalist said, "Could we look at it as a declaration of independence?" That is, I think, overly dramatic but, in a sense, it's true. We were supposed to be anything but writers. He was tremendously relieved when I went into business years ago.

Question from Blue-eyes: I've read almost exactly half of the memoir but there, to this point, has been little of the dynamic between your brother, Matthew, and your father. What can you say about that from your perspective?

Margaret Salinger: I would prefer not to speak about someone else's relation with another person from my perspective. My brother and father have their own relationship, and I'm not comfortable speculating on that, other than to say that siblings can have extremely different experiences of growing up, and both are telling the truth.

Question from PavelCzech: Ms. Salinger, do you have plans to grant any rights for movie adaptations of your father's works?

Margaret Salinger: I don't have legal rights over my father's work. I have no more right than anyone on the street to grant legal rights. I don't know who his estate executor will be.

Question from Haley-CNN: Now that the book is out, is there anything you now, in hindsight, wish you had added or removed from it?

Margaret Salinger: Gosh, I wish I hadn't put in everything about drinking urine, because that's all I'm reading. It speaks to my odd upbringing that I didn't find this particularly peculiar. I never expected to see that as sort of a "shockeroo" headline. It's quite a common practice of yogis, having to do with self-purification. Not being a practitioner myself, I don't know anything about it, but I was certainly surprised at the attention drawn to that.

I tried to be careful in my book of not having sexy, quotable quotes that can be taken out of context. My real desire with this book was to put things in context and to de-sensationalize and make human.

Question from Holly: Your father's books had a major effect on my life. Do you think we were unduly influenced?

Margaret Salinger: That's a question I'm happy someone asked, because I think it's lovely to have a book mean something to you. And I don't think anything in my book should take away from the reader's cherished memory of reading his books, or new readers coming to them, fresh.

What I do attack is the idolatry, the notion that the person who wrote these wonderful books will be your "catcher," the kind of people who troop to his house expecting him to be the one to understand them, to be their "catcher in the rye," and that's fair enough. I think the things expected of him as the writer of the book are not appropriate.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts for us today?

Margaret Salinger: I would just like to say that I hope that some of the sensationalist coverage of the book won't discourage serious readers from taking a look. It's great for sales for those with "inquiring minds," but it's much more than that, and I don't think that a kind-hearted, non-gossipy, serious reader will be disappointed. It's not just a tale of woe.

I'm in a very, very joyful place right now and feel tremendously lucky.

Chat Moderator: Thanks so much for joining us today, Margaret Salinger.

Margaret Salinger: Goodbye. I'm sorry I couldn't get to all of your questions, but it was a lot more fun than talking to some reporters.

Margaret Salinger joined the Book Chat via telephone from CNNís bureau in New York. CNN provided a typist for her. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Thursday, September 7, 2000.

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