With a writer like J.D. Salinger, everyone brings their own memories of reading him: being forced to read Catcher in school and hating it (and then going back to it years later and getting it), being forced to read it in school and loving it (and then going back to it later and thinking you were too old to get it), or discovering him on your own, particularly the stories. I was one of those people who loved Catcher the first time 'round, in ninth grade or thereabouts. I may not have been your typical Salinger audience (I was still holding out hope that everybody wasn't phonies), but I loved the voice from the very first page. And then I think the summer before college I bought all the other little paperbacks--Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey, and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters--and by the last one I felt I had wandered down a rabbit hole I didn't quite understand.
I didn't go back to him until years later, when I was staying for a weekend with a family I didn't know for a weekend while spending the summer alone in Germany. They were very nice--we watched Formula One on the TV and the son took me out to drink Radlers--but one night I retired to my room a little early, exhausted from trying to hold my own in this strange language and place. And there on a shelf in the guest room was a copy in English of The Catcher in the Rye, in the same elegant maroon paperback edition I had read at home a decade before. And I'm not sure I've ever devoured a book so happily and hungrily, transported home for a few hours.
More Salingeriana is appearing as the day goes on (while we wait for the answer to the big question: was he writing for the past 40 years, and will any of it be published?), and here are some links:
- Editor Robert Giroux, from his Paris Review interview, on quitting his job at Harcourt Brace because they wouldn't publish Catcher (and on Salinger's gracious reply to the news).
- Janet Malcolm in the NYRB on Salinger's Glass family (and the animosity they evoke)
- Three critics looked back to see if Catcher holds up in this Slate podcast
- Jonathan Yardley, a youthful Catcher fan, decides that it certainly does not hold up
- Louis Menand in the NYer from 2001 on Holden and what Catcher began
Meanwhile, a friend of Omni who saw Patti Smith speak in San Francisco last night (about her wonderful new book Just Kids) wrote in to say that she talked about the late Howard Zinn, and that every time he saw her he'd ask her to recite the words to her song "People Have the Power." Here those words are.
More, I'm sure, to come. What's your memory of reading Salinger? --Tom