Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP Salinger

I grew up reading the old classics, like the classics that were classic when my grandma was young. Dickens was my favorite, but I also enjoyed Little Women, Wizard of Oz, the Bronte sisters, and then thrown in for good measure a silly teen novel or two to keep my head down to Earth.

It wasn't until grad school when I took a class on analyzing how writers write that I read my first Salinger story. Yep. I got all the way through grad school as an English major without ever reading Catcher in the Rye. I eventually read it a couple of years after I became an English teacher.

But Nine Stories. Oh, Nine Stories was a thing of brilliance. I know Catcher is supposed to be the big thing, but just like VS was my first encounter with Pearl Jam so I kind of love it better than 10, Nine Stories was how I discovered Salinger.

I didn't know you could have characters talk that way in a story. They cut each other off, they ran with complete non-sequitors, they made conversations about nail polish interesting. It's a wonder Salinger didn't make his career in theater. The man had a gift for dialogue.

He also had a gift for subtlety. "A Perfect Day for Banana Fish" is probably tied with Updike's "A&P" as my favorite short story of all time. Seymour Glass has all this incredible sadness, but he never has to say a word about it. In fact, he behaves quite the opposite by playing in the ocean with the little girl. You know his life isn't right despite his cheerful facade. How did Salinger do that? It's amazing.

I also always get a thrill out of how he'd get his titles from lines of dialogue in the story. For a while I did that too.

Remember when Stephen Colbert joked that he had Salinger as his guest the next day? I wasn't sure if he was serious, but just in case, I waited on baited breath to find out. I always thought Salinger would come out of hiding one more time, give one last interview where he could gift us all his wisdom as a writer before he left.

But he didn't do that. Instead, he hid his talent away in anger and pouted, just like Holden, and refused to risk anymore public failure. My great hope right now is that somewhere in a big room in his house is a massive stack of manuscripts he's been typing up all these years, pages and pages of brilliant dialogue for us to pour over now that he's gone and nothing can hurt him. If he kept that from us, too, I'm gonna be pissed.


  1. yeah I heard the news today.

    on the bright side, I have been hearing that he wrote novels and stories in his cabin and he wanted them to be published after his death. If that's really true, then I am excited. Catcher is one of my Top 5 fave novels, it still resonates with me at 27 years old.

    By the way, for anyone who's reading this, the New Yorker has put some of his short stories online for free. I intend to read everything.

  2. Well done, makes me want to find those stories. Wendy

  3. After I first heard the news this afternoon I wanted to run to the bookstore and snatch up some of his tomes. It made me realize I have only read Catcher in the lame am I? Thanks for the tip on one of your faves! I will definitely read it.

  4. Never a fan of Catcher in the Rye, but loved both Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories... like Stephen King, Salinger's best work was always in his short stories... There's a lesson there for all writers.

  5. Glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks "Nine Stories" was the man's masterpiece (at least as far as we know). I've been banging that damn drum all day!

    R.I.P. J.D.

  6. I don't like so much Dicken. when I was a kid I really like Verne. It was more interesting for a kid like me. But it is pity that someone like him won't be with us anymore.


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