J.D. Salinger — 1919-2010

They’re dropping like flies this week, dear readers. Yesterday it was reported that both actress Zelda Rubinstein and author/historian Howard Zinn had died and today word comes that J.D. Salinger, famed author of Catcher in the Rye is also gone, at the ripe old age of 91. A recluse for most of his life, besides the occasional lawsuit to stop seemingly anyone from publishing any details about his life, one could be forgiven for thinking him already dead which, I suppose, might have pleased him immensely.

What we are left with is a blurry portrait, taken from accounts by a former lover and his daughter. The man who emerges is a narcissist with a penchant for Eastern philosophy, homeopathy, and drinking his own urine. It is, perhaps, not the most flattering of biographies.

Still, in the end, none of this really matters. Those who will mourn the loss of Salinger do not mourn him, so much as they mourn the man who gave us Holden Caulfield. In that sense, the frustration with Salinger’s reticence has less to do with the words from his mouth than those from his typewriter. All we are left with is a set of four, slim volumes and a handful of short stories, taking up precious little in the way of shelf space. And yet his most famous creation, the young Mr. Caulfield, endures in just about every aspect of adolescence in this country. One may dispute Salinger’s ability with the written word and it would be a far easier proposition than disputing his influence. In many ways, J.D. Salinger created the teenager we know today. The sullen, disenchanted, angry and, ultimately, sensitive young person was set in stone in Catcher in the Rye, the model for countless (if not all) counterculture icons since.

It may be that such effusive words are unwarranted when describing a book or its protagonist, but a book so widely read, so deeply entrenched in our culture, deserves nothing less. Ultimately it is a case of the work having far outgrown its creator; a creator who quickly came to despise both it and the fame it brought him. In that regard the loss of Salinger is already decades old.

6 Responses to “J.D. Salinger — 1919-2010”

  1. Richard Says:

    And another, sadly- master cartoonist and the gentleman’s gentleman William Ritchie also recently left us for fairer skies:


  2. Tequila Says:

    Like others I honestly thought he was already dead. So it wasn’t too hard of news to take. I does feel weird for it to finally be official though.

    I missed out on reading Catcher in the Rye as a teen since the High School I went to had dropped the book as part of the curriculum. It favored the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald who I loathed for years as a result. I still can’t stand The Great Gatsby.

    I do remember at that point in time the book was tied into the conspiracy theory world as some sort of odd bible. This was later capitalized on in a Mel Gibson film titled originally enough “Conspiracy Theory”. A bit of shame really.

    The book was even used in a particularly good episode of The Wonder Years that highlighted some of the hypocrisy in those who misused such books and “heroes”.

    By the time I read the book it felt oddly familiar. It’s become one of those books you know even if you never read a word of it.

    I admire Salinger more for his need for privacy than his work. I enjoy his books and no doubt will for years but that desire to not do interviews or have a proper biography is pitch perfect to me. More so now with the intense use of social networking and the ease of everyone having a basic fact sheet about them so easily read.

  3. Infamous Amos Says:

    In grade 11, my drama teacher insisted we do a stage production of catcher in the rye, which we were told we had to keep quiet from our friends, parents, and even the faculty. I assumed it was because of the swearing and prostitutes and general hot-button topics associated with it, but it was actually because she was afraid of getting sued. I asked her in my senior year, and she said that other schools that have asked to produce stage versions of the book were denied by Salinger’s estate, and ones that decided to do it without permission were met by lawyers on opening night. We did two productions of it, one just for her, and one for her and two of her friends. No one else.

    It was a hell of a show. To this day I really don’t know what to think about it.

    You don’t really think too much about the effects of artistic identity at that age. Its mostly all about ‘art’ and ‘identity’, that being ‘what I create’ and ‘who I am’. I never really thought that the union of the two could effect someone the way it did for Salinger. He didn’t want to be public domain. He did not want to represent his work. He wanted it to represent him. He did not need a group of 17 year old kids sleepwalking through their lines and calling each other phonies to get his point across. Even though I disobeyed it at the time, I understood it.

    Producing a play against his wishes was an odd feeling, almost like we were stealing it or bastardizing the source material in some way, (which admittedly we probably did). It was his and we made it ours. In a way, that had already happened years before we had even touched it. When the whole world identifies with you, its must be hard not to resent the whole world for the problems you see in yourself. We got it, he hated that we got it, but hopefully we got that, too.

    My first name is J.D., and I’ve had to explain this to a few people today who looked concerned about me, like a family member died or something. When you have an odd name and something noteworthy happens to the only famous person in the world with that name people generally tend to chat you up out of the blue a lot. All I can say is he was a guy who I’m sure would have been happy to know that I knew very little about him, his life, or his methods, but I loved his work. In my eyes, that’s what he wanted, and he earned it.

    …Now, Captain Beefheart on the other hand still needs to come out of retirement while he still can.

  4. Esmeralda Says:

    I am mourning, it’s the end of an era.I found the “Catcher in the Rye” in my secondary school library,one day when I was escaping from Physics class in a Northern European country.Already an outcast because I didn’t belong there,not having been born in this North Pole territory,I experienced a precaucious existential crisis at the age of 16-17,afraid of becoming like them and struggling to holding on to my own identity.This book landed in my hands,together with Sartre’s Nausea-Camus-The E’tranger and a book written as a diary of a schizofrenic girl,”I never promised you a Rose garden”.But it was Holden Caufield that held the torch for people like me,it was he who helped me find a way of becoming an adult and not succumbing to societies rules too much so that my individuality would be erased.Thank you JD Salinger,whereever you are.

  5. O Says:

    And yet another… Louis Auchincloss.

  6. agent double oh-no Says:

    Catcher in the Rye was the first book I ever read, cover to cover, on my own. Well, it had been assigned in 9th grade English class, but, I actually really did read it all. And I loved it. Catcher in the Rye surprised me in that reading could be fun, but I didn’t read another novel for three years (thank you public school). Thank you for your short, incisive obituary.

    “Those who will mourn the loss of Salinger do not mourn him, so much as they mourn the man who gave us Holden Caulfield.” – This strikes me as a profound insight into how the actual Salinger lives in the American imagination – as a placeholder for a fictional character. It raises a question: Did the sensitive, rebellious Holden lived a life in the stubbornly reclusive Salinger? In other words, when Holden really did have the option of mass celebrity, he really did turn his back on all the phonies.

    Did Salinger “create the teenager” as angry young man as you claim or recast this figure – well-known to James Joyce and William Shakespeare – as a DEEPLY assimilated Jew who is alienated and angry at white America? Many Holden Caufields went down south a few years later on the Freedom Rides and many more found a new identity in the anti-war and feminist movements of the 1960s.

    It may interest the Coilhouse readership to know that the origins of Catcher in the Rye can be found in “Slight Rebellion off Madison,” a short story Salinger submitted to The New Yorker in 1946. It can be seen here: http://www.freeweb.hu/tchl/salinger/madison.html Seven of his other stories were rejected by The New Yorker. For those not satisfied with

    The closing line to “Slight Rebellion off Madison” is as follows: “His teeth chattering violently, Holden stood on the corner and waited for a Madison Avenue bus. It was a long wait.” I suppose that the wait is now over.