Even if it means I’m forced to change the name of this blog, I have no insights to offer regarding the news that J.D. Salinger has died. Scanning my shelves for copies of his books, I discovered something that may be true for you as well. The books aren’t with me; they’re probably tucked in the shelves of the basement of my parents’ house. Salinger was something that meant a lot to me as a teenager, but I didn’t carry him with me into adulthood, and I can no more articulate his literary worth than I can explain my tween affection for The A-Team and Oran “Juice” Jones. Scanning through the short-story archives that the New Yorker has placed online did jog a few memories, though—“For Esme—With Love and Squalor,” for instance, is a reminder of how far a writer can get by making cynicism and precocity collide.
“Oh my, here am I relegated to a classroom“: What happened when you told Salinger how much you enjoyed teaching his work to high-schoolers.
Before his death, the closest thing to a new Salinger book was an effort to put his final short story, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” between hard covers. The publisher is now free to explain why the plan fell apart.
The classist in me always found the WASP-y focus of Louis Auchincloss‘ work deeply unappealing, but Terry Teachout argues for the brilliance of the late author’s 1964 novel, The Rector of Justin.
The Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archives of Andre Dubus.
Investigating Philip K. Dick‘s final years in Orange County.
Handicapping a literary Super Bowl between Louisiana (Truman Capote, Walker Percy) and Indiana (Kurt Vonnegut, Theodore Dreiser).
American writers may be helping Indian literature fall into a rut.
But at least one Indian interviewer figures the country can learn from Raymond Carver. (via HTMLGiant)
A new biography on the final years of Mark Twain‘s life squashes rumors that he was a pedophile. Also: a close study of Twain’s politics. (via Reason magazine)
Ha Jin: “On the one hand, it is a miserable life, because there’s so much anxiety. But on the other hand, if I don’t write, I feel ill.”
6 thoughts on “Links: If You Really Want to Hear About It”
“Salinger was something that meant a lot to me as a teenager, but I didn’t carry him with me into adulthood…”
That is exactly my experience. Salinger was my favorite author for most of my teens, but I don’t remember the last time I opened one of his books before yesterday.
As a young man (now 23) who in his teens completely bypassed Salinger, his death doesn’t come to me as a great shock or tragedy. I still haven’t read ‘Catcher,’ and probably I never will.
But I get a kick out of the obituaries and remembrances pronouncing him literature’s most reclusive figure. Pynchon, anyone? This piece from slate, now over a decade old, sums it up rather well: http://www.slate.com/id/31263/
I bet Salinger would actually have liked discovering readers had Catcher hidden away at their parents house, not having read it in years. Such would reflect that the book was a part of a certain adolescent innocence that slowly gets eaten away, and is altogether gone by the time we grow up and go to college and talk about “literary” works. I imagine that is what he wanted to do; he did it, and could make a living, so why publish anymore? So people would think of him as a “writer?” I doubt he’d have any desire to participate in that.
And as for Pynchon … there is simply no comparing the two. If you never read Catcher, you’ve missed out, and I wouldn’t recommend trying it unless you can forget everything you’ve been taught about “literature,” shut off your critical/academic self, and just open yourself up to the book. If not … well, you’ve always got Pynchon.
I was most surprised to find Salinger’s death mentioned on the front page of a local (fairly major but out of the way) paper, but someone pointed out to me an excellent point: for most readers of said newspaper or obituary writers and people in general, Salinger was an important figure. While I’m sure many left him behind in adolescence, many kept him as well. I’m neither – adolescence is still somewhat upon me and I loathed “Catcher in the Rye”.
Regardless, books don’t stay in parents’ basements forever. One day kids find themselves at their grandparents’ house, browsing through those old books and finding what was once important and relevant. I wouldn’t be surprised if after Holden gets phased out of high school English, he becomes something of an old-school attraction (like vinyl).
Articulating the literary worth of J.D. Salinger is itself a meaningful exercise because it forces the question of what is literary. And while one man’s literature can often be another man’s ad copy, the question is particularly vexing with Mr. Salinger because he may have left behind a body of unfinished work far greater than the five slim volumes he published between WW2 and the early 1960s. While mass-market copies of “Catcher in the Rye” have continued to outsell 99% of new fiction title, nearly half a century has passed since his last publication, and we may see new work that either enhances or undermines our valuation of Mr. Salinger.
Personally, I prefer Salinger’s stories to Catcher and the the whole Glass family saga. “The Laughing Man,” for me, has radiated several worthwhile re-readings over the decades. I don’t know many people who hate Salinger. I suppose most are indifferent. But those that love Salinger tend to be passionate about it.
“Catcher’s” sales have to be in “Gone with the Wind” or “Wizard of Oz” territory, yet while it’s more than a genre best-seller, how far is it from S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders?” Yes, Catcher is taught in high school along with F. Scott Fitzgerald, but isn’t it more comfort food than the main course? kind of like a gateway drug to help loosen reluctant teen students’ inhibitions for weightier fare like Hemingway and Faulkner, ultimately leading to brussels sprouts (Hawthorne) or heroin (Melville).
But as much as Salinger’s sales cannot be denied, I’d have to put him more on the pop side of literary than the literary side of pop… in the same post-war neighborhood as Kerouac and Heller and maybe Vonnegut. Literary because, as a writer, Salinger has style by the truckload… Salinger’s voice had that peculiar flavor or capital-S soul that defined so much post-WW2 fiction… aching with sincerity and pained by the weight of self-awareness, sentient and evoking lyrical rhythms of contemporary dialogue while suspicious that the roots of those rhythms were the prostituting Matrix of mass-market media which ultimately absorbed his work.
Salinger’s appeal is not so far from the glib America in Nabokov’s Lolita, Cheever’s New York, Irving’s wacky families, and maybe some of Updike’s early New York. Throw in a pinch of Emily Dickinson’s precision, Sylvia Plath’s pathos, and there’s more than a little literary worth with J.D. Salinger.
And don’t forget Salinger’s archetypical New Yorker-ness. You’d have to throw “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut” and “Just Before the War with the Eskimos” in there with your Cheevers, E.B. Whites and John O’Haras, not to mention the direct and immediate influence on guys like Roth and Updike. These are big names.
Maybe we’ve forgotten (or never knew?) how cool Salinger was back in the day. Before the “typical New Yorker short story” became diluted by ruminations from over-educated, upper middle-class intellectuals as they washed their lettuce over non-chalant discussions of divorce, there were people who were born in New York, then grew up there and had a supremely readable way of describing the world… even those parts of it that lied west of the Hudson River… before Elvis, before the beats and hippies, before themes of paranoia and entropy and all-encompassing sadness, Salinger was a reputation-builder for the NYer.
On its face comparing Pynchon to Salinger doesn’t feel like much more than a couple of bullet points on a wikipedia page for the word “recluse.” Pynchon seems to prefer a private life off the grid (though you have to love the savvy wit behind his voice cameo in the “Diatribe of a Mad Housewife” episode of the Simpsons, broadcast the week before “Against the Day” hit shelves). Salinger, of course, stopped publishing yet supposedly continued writing while apparently pursuing young women (girls?) when they were precisely at that tender age in life when they would be most strongly influenced by his teen angst oeuvre. Ick.
When you consider the psychology of his evident craving/revulsion for media attention, the massive pop success, and the possibly outsized love/hate of self, it’s a bit of a surprise that he lived as long as he did (Kurt Cobain, anyone?).
But instead of giving up, he outlived Updike, Wallace and many more. And, maybe, he produced a cache of fiction far greater than what little he published for a little over a decade in his lifetime. Literary worth? This has got to be the holy grail for estate-mongers like Andrew Wylie.
Maybe the Pynchon comparison has some meat on the bone when you strip out one’s work and lay it next to the other’s life. Pierce Inverarity would have been proud.
Daniel, I’m not an academic, and I’m not in college, nor has any professor ever talked at me about “literature,” scarequotes included for your benefit. Save your pretentious anti-pretension for someone else. Thanks.