Thursday, January 28, 2010


J.D. Salinger (1919-2010)

If I weren't in a rush to post this, I might have taken more time to try to find a better photo of J.D. Salinger, but somehow this seemed appropriate with the author's obsession with privacy and life as a recluse. His output was relatively small for a legendary writer such as he was, but those novels and short stories were so monumental, so influential for so many generations of readers, that his reputation was sealed long before his death Wednesday at 91.

Salinger's best-known creation was Holden Caulfield, his protagonist from his 1951 debut novel The Catcher in the Rye, a rite of passage for adolescents of many generations and a book that still generates controversy, which always seems puzzling to anyone who has read it. I actually didn't read it until college, under unusual circumstances. I'd driven to Dallas to visit a friend for spring break only his mother had summoned him home without him having the chance to tell me, so I let myself in with a key under the doormat. To make matters worse, a freak March snow and ice storm basically trapped me in his apartment with little to eat and even less to do and that's how I first read Catcher in the Rye and loved it. It's really that opening paragraph that grabbed me and, I suspect, most others.
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

Rye was not Salinger's first published work. He first garnered acclaim in 1948 for the great short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," which leads off his great short story collection Nine Stories. His two other published novels, which really were each two novellas joined together, really had more charms than Rye and all concerned the Glass family. First, came the excellent Franny and Zooey which was followed by my personal favorite, Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, and its companion the difficult, but ultimately worthwhile Seymour: An Introduction.

More than a decade ago, there was a plan to print in book form Salinger's last published novella, Hapworth 16, 1924, which originally appeared in The New Yorker in 1965. The ensuing publicity was so ferocious that the book was delayed indefinitely. Perhaps we will still get to see it someday. Rest in peace, Mr. Salinger. You don't have to worry about the phonies any longer.

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His book was definitely influential on my life since I read in college. He will be sadly missed. I will cherish his work forever.
Salinger was horrified by the movie adaptation of "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut," made by Fox in 1949 as "My Foolish Heart" with Susan Hayward, overripe and overrwrought. Not a bad movie, exactly, but definitely missing the inferences and nuances of the Salinger story. This experience soured him on letting his other work be Hollywoodized. I would have liked to see "Catcher in the Rye" as a movie, but one can argue that it was made as "Less than Zero."
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