“May I inquire how you were employed before entering the Army?” Esme asked me.
I said I hadn’t been employed at all, that I’d only been out of college a year but that I liked to think of myself as a professional short-story writer.
She nodded politely. “Published?” she asked.
It was a familiar but always touchy question, and one that I didn’t answer just one, two, three. I explained how most editors in America were a bunch—
“My father wrote beautifully,” Esme interrupted. “I’m saving a number of his letters for posterity.”
I said that sounded like a very good idea….
“I’d be extremely flattered if you’d write a story exclusively for me sometime. I’m an avid reader.”
I told her I certainly would, if I could. I said that I wasn’t terribly prolific.
“It doesn’t have to be terribly prolific! Just so that it isn’t childish and silly.” She reflected. “I prefer stories about squalor.”
“About what?” I said, leaning forward.
“Squalor. I’m extremely interested in squalor.”
—J.D. Salinger, 1919-2010, “For Esme—With Love and Squalor”
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