Famous Literary Recluses

Antony Di Gesu / San Diego Historical Society / Hulton Archive Collection / Getty Images

Three solitary American writers manage to remain firmly in the public eye.

Thomas Pynchon, Ca. 1955

Masterpiece: Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
Bete Noire:
Military-Scientific-Industrial Complex
Legal Entanglement:
Made CNN not identify him in illicit footage
Big Moment on the Silver Screen:
Paul Thomas Anderson is adapting Pynchon’s last novel, Inherent Vice, with Joaquin Phoenix.
Big Moment on the Small Screen:
Pynchon actually voices the cartoon version of himself on The Simpsons.
Random Side Effects of Literary Influence:
Gravity’s Rainbow inspired the Devo song “Whip It.”
Wacko Urban Myths:
J. D. Salinger was actually Thomas Pynchon.
Upcoming Works:
Bleeding Edge (The Penguin Press), a satire of tech culture pre-9/11, out September 17
Best “Leave Me Alone” Quote:
“‘Recluse’ is a code word generated by journalists... meaning, ‘doesn’t like to talk to reporters.’”

J. D. Salinger, Ca. 1952

Masterpiece: The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
Bete Noire:
“Phonies”
Legal Entanglement:
Stopped the U.S. publication of an unauthorized Catcher in the Rye sequel
Big Moment on the Silver Screen:
Will Smith’s “Manifesto of Hate” monologue in Six Degrees of Separation
Big Moment on the Small Screen:
PBS’s upcoming new American Masters documentary, Salinger (also in theaters on September 6)
Random Side Effects of Literary Influence:
The Catcher in the Rye inspired John Lennon’s killer.
Wacko Urban Myths:
Salinger left a trove of writing to be published after his death in 2010.
Upcoming Works:
The Private War of J. D. Salinger (Simon & Schuster), a new biography, out September 3
Best “Leave Me Alone” Quote:
“I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it.”

Harper Lee, Ca. 1962

Masterpiece: To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
Bete Noire:
Racism
Legal Entanglement:
Currently suing son-in-law of ex-agent for mishandling her copyright
Big Moment on the Silver Screen:
To Kill a Mockingbird won Gregory Peck an Oscar for playing the world’s only noble lawyer.
Big Moment on the Small Screen:
Past American Masters documentary Harper Lee: Hey, Boo
Random Side Effects of Literary Influence:
To Kill a Mockingbird inspired civil rights activists—and everyone, really.
Wacko Urban Myths:
Truman Capote actually wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.
Upcoming Works:
A deposition for her lawsuit?
Best “Leave Me Alone” Quote:
“Well, it’s better to be silent than to be a fool.”