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 J.D. Salinger

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PostSubject: J.D. Salinger   Fri Jan 29, 2010 7:18 pm

"Don't ever tell anybody anything," J.D. Salinger wrote in the closing lines of "The Catcher in the Rye." "If you do, you start missing everybody."

For more than two decades now, I've thought about that ending as a piece of code. Not that Salinger, who died Wednesday at age 91 in Cornish, N.H., was an oracle, despite what his most dedicated followers -- those who hung around his driveway, hoping for a glimpse of the reclusive author, or parsed his sentences on a million websites -- might believe.

But Salinger was a writer who refracted his perspective into language, producing work that was personal and profound. Between 1951 and 1965, he produced four uncommonly sensitive books of fiction -- "Catcher," "Nine Stories," "Franny and Zooey" and "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" -- before retreating to his home in Cornish and refusing to publish any more.

As he once wrote to biographer Ian Hamilton (in the course of suing Hamilton for quoting from his unpublished letters), "I think I've borne all the exploitation and loss of privacy I can possibly bear in a single lifetime."

For the last 45 years, this was the encoded story, Salinger's self-imposed silence, as readers debated whether he was still writing or off in some twilit oblivion of his own. For his part, Salinger's interactions with the public were infrequent and largely litigious. As recently as July, he won an injunction preventing the release of an unauthorized sequel to "The Catcher in the Rye."

And yet, our collective fascination with his life rather than his writing suggests another bit of code, or at least a set of clues. Wasn't this, after all, what Salinger was rejecting, a culture of celebrity in which the most important thing was appearance and no one cared about the level of the soul?

"I just quit, that's all," Franny Glass tells her boyfriend early in "Franny and Zooey," explaining why she gave up acting. " . . . I don't know. It seemed like such poor taste, sort of, to want to act in the first place. I mean all the ego. And I used to hate myself so, when I was in a play, to be backstage after the play was over. All those egos running around feeling terribly charitable and warm."

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.

In "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters," he describes a night on which Franny, then an infant, is moved into the room shared by her brothers Buddy and Seymour, to avoid "a siege of mumps." As the baby fusses, Seymour reads to her; the story he chooses is a Taoist tale. "To this day," Salinger writes, "Franny swears that she remembers Seymour reading it to her" -- an echo that reverberates throughout his work.

Seymour, after all, is the sainted genius of the Glass family, the oldest brother whose suicide Salinger recounts with just the right touch of understatement in his short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." And "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" is an account of Seymour's wedding, an account that, because we know about his death from the outset, comes encoded with its own end.

That, of course, is true of everything, of all human endeavor, which is an expression of futility in the face of the void. Salinger understood this, maybe because of a nervous breakdown he is said to have experienced during World War II, maybe because of his embrace of Buddhism.

Either way, the Glass stories are all about renunciation -- as is "The Catcher in the Rye," in its way. This is why generations of adolescents have responded to "Catcher's" 16-year-old hero, Holden Caulfield, for his ability to see through the machinations of the adult world.

"Hey, Sally," he says to a girl he's taken on a date. " . . . Did you ever get fed up? I mean did you ever get scared that everything was going to go lousy unless you did something? I mean do you like school, and all that stuff? . . . Well, I hate it. Boy, do I hate it. . . . But it isn't just that. It's everything."

What Salinger is evoking here is the contradiction of his own heart: the need to express himself, even though he knows that it won't get him anywhere.

Ultimately, perhaps, this may be why he took his leave from the world nearly half a century before he actually left it, why he stopped publishing.

It makes for a complicated legacy, since how are we to know what to think of him, when so much remains beyond our reach?

And yet, it doesn't matter, not really, for in his books, we find the essence of a fully articulated worldview, in which silence and expression go hand in hand.

Fanny and Zooey was one of my favorite books.
On the flipside of that The Catcher In The Rye was one of the booksI had the hardest time reading.
J.D. Salinger...............I wonder what amazing things you wrote that you chose never to share with us.

You'll be missed.

”Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." ~H. L. Mencken

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PostSubject: Re: J.D. Salinger   Fri Jan 29, 2010 8:06 pm

candles J.D. Salinger
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PostSubject: Re: J.D. Salinger   Sat Jan 30, 2010 12:11 am

I read The Catcher in the Rye in high school. I don't even remember what it was about. Nonetheless, RIP, J.D. Salinger.
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PostSubject: Re: J.D. Salinger   Sat Jan 30, 2010 12:53 am

In hearing the tributes to Salinger, I learned that "Catcher in the Rye" was actually required reading in many high schools.

This shocked me, because in my high school it was not only not taught in class, but banned from the library. If we were caught with our own copy on us it would be confiscated.

So naturally, one of my smart, strange and dark friends bought a used copy at Half Price Books. He finished it in days and passed it on to another of my group. A week later the forbidden book was passed on to me.

We knew why it was banned- beyond the claims of "swearing" and "sex" that the administrators used. Holden was... one of us. The school was dismayed by what we were- as disaffected youth. Holden was a friend. He spoke in a voice just like ours. Reading his words clandestinely- tucked inside another book in the lunch room (yes, we really did hide it inside other books) gave us a rebellious sense of feedom. They could control our bodies but not our minds.

As we aged, Holden did not. He became like friend who had bought our tattered group copy of "Catcher in the Rye": Jon. Jon killed himself a right before his 21st birthday. We miss Jon, but he is forever frozen in amber. He grows no older. His battles slowly make less sense as the rest of us are granted the wisdom of age. Likewise, Holden is frozen. To a 26 year old his behavior makes less sense, but I still see so much of me- of us- in his rebellion, in his offhand way of speaking.

Jon is gone.
Holden exists between worlds.
Now Salinger is gone too... but he'd been gone for a while. His physical death is still noteworthy, but he hasn't been alive in a way that we would know for 45 years. Without books, without articles, we cannot consume him, judge him, eat him. Salinger was clever in figuring that out.

Now I sit alone in my study, working on the novel I began writing all the way back in high school. The protagonist's downfall is that he is too much Holden, too little Salinger. A musician, hung up on his youthful rebellion has his soul destroyed by the b!tch goddess of fame. Salinger saw that happening and eschewed the outside world. Ultimately, my novel is about redemption... in honor of Holden and Jon, who never got that far.
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PostSubject: Re: J.D. Salinger   Sat Jan 30, 2010 9:23 am

The Catcher in the Rye was one of my favorite books..
RIP J.D. Salinger. candles
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PostSubject: Re: J.D. Salinger   Sat Jan 30, 2010 1:06 pm

Well he lived and long, albeit probably not too happy of a life.
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PostSubject: Re: J.D. Salinger   Sun Jan 31, 2010 2:41 am

^Well said.
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