Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D.Salinger 1919-2010

No doubt you may have read the news. Another one of the cultural icons of my youth, J.D Salinger, has died, having passed away this Wednesday at his New Hampshire home. He was 91.

Some of you may have been surprised that he was still alive. He had not published anything in many, many years, was rarely seen in public and had become quite the recluse. And, if any number of the stories about his personal life are true, was a rather strange man. A man that wanted his publisher to remove his photograph from the book jacket of his very famous novel because he was sick of looking at himself. A writer who had not published anything since 1965, having told a reporter once that "There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I love to write for myself and my own pleasure." Still, I think fans can be forgiven for almost being overcome with the thought that the rumor that he has been writing all these years and has stacks of unpublished material that his estate may someday now let see the light of day may, in fact, be true.

Of course, Salinger is most famous for his novel, the coming of age story of Holden Caulfield, 'Catcher in the Rye'. And while I read it and most likely enjoyed it, it will not be for Catcher that I remember Salinger. No, I was all about the Glass family, the major subject of his writing, explored in 'Franny and Zooey' and 'Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters' and in several of the stories in 'Nine Stories'. Which along with his one novel, 'Catcher in the Rye" is pretty much the total sum of everything he published. To quote an article today in the L.A.Times,
"For all that "The Catcher in the Rye" made him famous, "Franny and Zooey" is Salinger's masterpiece, an evocation of loss and longing within the bonds of family. Composed of two novellas, it introduces the youngest members of the Glass family, about whom Salinger would devote more than half of his published work.

The Glasses are a New York creation, theatrical but also intellectual, middle class but bohemian at the same time. They talk and fight like immigrants, but they pursue esoteric pursuits, most notably Eastern philosophy and Buddhism, like members of the leisured elite.

In a sense, this was reflective of Salinger's experience; growing up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the son of a Scotch-Irish mother and a wealthy Jewish father, he had a foot in several worlds. Yet more to the point, the Glasses offered Salinger a wide lens through which to look at the intersection of mystical and secular culture, at the satisfactions of the spirit and of the flesh."
If you aspire to be a serial killer, of course, you must have your copy of 'Catcher in the Rye' on hand, but I think if you really want to understand Salinger and read his best work, get your hands on a copy of 'Franny and Zooey'. If you have never read it, I think you have a great pleasure ahead of you.


  1. I love all the Glass family stuff too. Franny and Zooey was my favorite, and to be honest I didn't much care for The Catcher in the Rye.

  2. It sounds like I've been missing out on a lot. I'll have you know that I've put the librarians to work here in my little small town library--importing books from other libraries, some far away, in part to your blog. =)

  3. Michele at Reader's Respite is doing a read-along for all those aspiring serial murderers! So I tried to get a copy on my Kindle or at the library, and it was not happening. Kindle doesn't sell it, and there are umpteen holds on the books. Believe it or not, I've not read anything from Salinger. I was educated by apes.

  4. by I don't think so

    I think everyone should read Catcher just because it is just a part of 20th century culture. But it was certainly not my favorite Salinger. And from what I have read, young people do not identify with Holden today as kids in my age, the distant, distant past, did.

    I personally think the other stuff, especially the Glass family stuff, is more timeless. Not to mention better.

    Hey, the good news of Salinger is that you can read everything he wrote in just a few days or a week or so!

  5. As you were, I was so saddened to hear the news of his death. I just love Catcher. And Nine Stories is still probably my favorite collection of short stories ever.
    A wonderful tribute you have written here.

  6. I was shocked when I heard of his death. Catcher is in my top three books of all times, and I can't even begin to express how much I love it.

    In fact, I know it sounds stupid, but after reading Catcher, I haven't picked up another Salinger as I don't believe it could match Catcher at any level, and I couldn't bear that kind of disappointment. I might change that soon though... Franny & Zooey seems to be the next obvious step.


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