Thursday, January 28, 2010
AP is reporting that J.D. Salinger, the author of the famous novel "Catcher in the Rye" -- the blueprint for teenage alienation in the second half of the 20th Century -- has died.
I enjoyed reading all of his published works. The reaction to "Catcher in the Rye" is an indication of how much American culture has changed in the last six decades, for better and/or worse. Certainly, it is mild by today's standards, and even in the 1970s, when I read it as a high school student (along with just about everyone else in the U.S.), it was not considered particularly risqué ; yet, following its publication in 1951, the novel was occasionally banned by a school board.
He led the life of an artist, and the AP obituary mentions many of his personality, er, quirks. I do think there is something refreshingly old school about an author or artist of his magnitude who chooses not to capitalize on his talent and permit it to be morphed into celebrity for its own sake. "Salinger became famous for not wanting to be famous," and he lived "in self-imposed isolation in the small, remote house in Cornish, N.H." Who among us hasn't wanted a day or two of time alone? Salinger just exercised his personal liberty and extended that a bit.
The obituary makes reference to the possibility of 15 unpublished works, so it will be interesting to see if any of those exist, and if so, whether they see the light of day.
I was forced to read Catcher in the Rye when I was in high school. Holden Caufield would appreciate the irony. But I hated the novel -- and Holden too -- because I could make no connection to him. To me, he was an insufferable, self-centered spoiled brat ... and I'm no conformist.
I never picked on any one in my life -- one of my weaknesses. But if Holden was in my high school class ... I'd be dropping him head first into the cafeteria trash can ... by myself, daily ... just on general principles.
Happily, my relatively spoiled 17-year old son -- with no prompting from me -- came to the same conclusion.
If you want 1950s-early 60s beat or rebel, there are so many better things to read. Is it a surprise that Salinger was a one-hit wonder?
ps ... are there phonies in heaven?