J.D. Salinger 1919-2010

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salinger.jpgI knew that this day would come soon but, it's still a shock. J.D. Salinger is dead at the age of 91. We hadn't heard from him in quite some time. His last book Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters & Seymour: an Introduction, was published in 1963, the year that I was born. But we always knew he was out there in his little house in New Hampshire. He just didn't want us to bother him. I wonder if he was writing that whole time, squirreling away story after story. Maybe he thought we didn't deserve to read them. Besides, he didn't want the attention.

Whether that's true or not it's a comfort to know that he left us with four stunning books. I try to return to them whenever I can. He's best known for Catcher in the Rye, but it's the "Glass Family" books that I love the best. His page and a half long description of the contents of  their medicine chest in Franny and Zooey still leaves me reeling. It's these books that really solidified my love of reading fiction. Sure the Glasses were cloying and smug at times but they were seriously entertaining as well. Salinger
rendered them so deftly that they ceased being fictional to me. They seemed real. Especially Seymour.

I picked up Raise High the Roofbeam... around the holidays last year. It's the story of Seymour's trainwreck of a wedding day. While he was a genius in many ways, Seymour was a terrible communicator and this reticence nearly ruins the day. Well, it actually does ruin the day but the marriage is salvaged. The story is at turns comical and sad. It's clear that there are moments when life is just too much for Seymour. I was relieved to see that the story still had so much impact after all these years. I loved it just as much (maybe more) as when I first read it in college.

Salinger and his books have remained a presence in my life; coming through for me when I least expect it. The first time I met my wife I was in the backyard of my Chicago apartment, enjoying a beautiful spring day and reading Franny and Zooey. She later told me that it was the Salinger that initially hooked her in. Thanks J.D.!

Our daughter's middle name is Frances is honor of Franny Glass, the plucky and hyper intelligent heroine of that book. So, in a way, a part of Salinger lives on in my family. And, when I need some reassurance about things I pick up Nine Stories and go straight to "For Esme-With Love and Squalor." It's sad beauty leaves me breathless every time. 

It's through these stories a nerdy Midwestern kid caught a glimpse of a different world. A world where people said what was on their mind and trotted out their flaws for all to see. These stories made a huge difference in my life and I consider myself fortunate to have been lucky enough to discover them.

My guess is that I'm not the only one.


1 Comment

Great piece Stephen. A lot of us read Catcher cover to cover without stopping. Couldn't put it down.

Wayne C.

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This page contains a single entry published on January 29, 2010 3:04 AM.

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