Thursday, January 28, 2010


Another icon dies - J. D. Salinger, only a day after Howard Zinn... Is it true that many of the comments on Salinger's death are personal? it seems that way - notes about reading Catcher in the Rye, the personal connection the reader had to it. There may be good reasons - Salinger seems to me to have had a particularly intimate way of writing - "to inhabit the skin" of Holden Caufield, say (as Ted Burke put it) - a quality, that intimacy, that interiority - I remember from all his work I read. My strongest memory of Salinger is personal - less the stories, more the fact that I found a copy of Nine Stories at a summer camp where my parents volunteered and we usually took summer vacation. An old beat up paperback, maybe missing the cover, that I carried around with me most of the week, reading it when I could, sitting in the shade, reading it in the back seat of the car. I remember there was something off about that summer - somebody did a lot of fighting, me and my mother, or me and my brothers, or my brothers and my parents - I don't remember who or why, just a kind of simmering tension, that was unusual, especially for vacations. (Might have been the year my brother broke his leg, though that seems late - but it would certainly explain the bad tempers.) There was one day, we took a day trip somewhere - godawful hot, but someone had to go to the DMV, I think it was - and I ended up stuck in the car with some collection of quarreling relatives, waiting while someone was attending to unpleasant official business. Sitting in the back seat listening to whatever argument and whining was going on, reading Salinger, and tuning out everything else. It seemed like the perfect thing to be reading... As for Catcher in the Rye, I read that in high school, toward the end - later than a lot of people did, I suspect. I liked it well enough, but it didn't really stick with me. I was enough of an old fart at 17 that I was obsessed with "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" - the most inspiring novel at the time was Ignacio Silone's Bread and Wine. After the fact, I found, the best book I read at the time to be The Great Gatsby - I had to reread it once or twice to really get it, but it gained in power; I can't say the same for Catcher in the Rye... but Nine Stories haunts me.

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