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.
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