Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy Birthday, J.D. Salinger

Cult author J.D. Salinger, had he not died this past January 27, would be 92 years old today.  The reclusive (Salinger's life define's the very word) writer is, of course, best known for his cult classic The Catcher in the Rye.  Whether Salinger decided to quit while he was on top or, perhaps, had little else to say, he published very little new material after his tremendous success with Catcher.  


Whichever the case, Salinger disliked the hoopla and attention associated with having written such a big book and even resorted to having his author picture removed from its later editions.  Much like his beloved character Holden Caulfield, Salinger withdrew from the pressures of a "phony" world. Caulfield ended up in a mental asylum and Salinger in a remote section of New Hampshire (where he still lived when he died on January 27, 2010).

Despite being one of the literature world's one-hit-wonders, Salinger succeeded in creating one of serious literature's most memorable characters in Holden Caulfield, a young man who became a symbol for disillusioned youth for more than one generation. Even today, The Catcher in the Rye is as often banned in high schools as it is required reading in others, a distinction almost certainly matched by few other books.  That the book can have an impact on young minds is beyond dispute, as evidenced by the fact that John Lennon's assassin (in 1980), Mark David Chapman, so eerily identified with Caulfield.   Chapman, in fact, did not even try to get away from the murder scene, deciding instead to wait there for authorities while he read from his copy of The Catcher in the Rye.

Personally, I have never quite understood the awe in which J.D. Salinger has been held for so many decades, but the impact of his novel cannot be denied.  It speaks to people of a certain age, and a particular frame-of-mind, in a powerful way.  One does have to wonder if Salinger's decision to transform himself into a modern hermit had as much to do with his lasting fame as anything else, however.  Had he continued to write and, almost certainly, produce lesser works than Catcher would he be the cult figure he is today?  We will never know, but perhaps now that he is gone, the world will get a look at what he was supposedly writing all those years while living in his self-exile.

5 comments:

  1. I was always fascinated by the idea that this author would produce such an impactful work of literature and then just virtually disappear. I finally read Catcher this past year and have to say I wasn't overly in awe of it. I supposed had I read it as a teenager I might have felt differently. I'm not sure that Salinger would have met with as much success if he had written more. I also think he stayed famous because he was such an enigma.

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  2. I think that "Catcher" is very much a book of its time, Kathleen, and that its impact probably lessens with each decade that passes. I do honestly believe that the book is overrated today and was even when first published.

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  3. You people cannot be for real. Salinger may be best known for his Catcher in the Rye, but it is not remotely close to being his best work. The undeniable genius of Salinger flows freely through most of his published short stories - and these were published roughly ten years after Catcher... I highly recomend that all of you, blogger as well as commentators, reas his Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymor: an introduction before passing any kind of judgement.

    To claim that Catcher is "overrated today" and that "it's impact ledsens..." is clearly untrue, considering that about 250000 copies of the book are sold each. And WHO are you to decide if a book is overrated anyway, passing judgement based on misinformation?

    And lastly: Salinger wasn't "supposedly writing" anything. As Google would've happily told you, has you asked, Salinger wrote because he loved to write, and he wrote for himself. (As implausible as such a thing may seem in this age of attention-whoring bloggers.) So I can assure you that he has written much - what remains to be seen is whether or not he kept what he wrote, and whether or not it will ever be published. I am certainly not alone in hoping that there is more, and much, much more, as he only published four books in all.

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  4. Last post written on an iPad which doesn't like to cooperate much. Sorry for missing words and typos - not My fault! :)

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  5. I think the difference between me and a whore, Sebastian, is that a whore gets paid...not a whole lot of cash in blogging the way I do it.

    I do admire your passion about Sallinger because I am equally passionate about the things and people I love. What I do here is simply give my frank opinion and reaction to the books, writers, and music that I experience. I don't expect everyone, or anyone, even, to agree.

    BTW, I typed this on an iPad, like you, and I don't see any typos...so whose fault was it, again? :-)

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