January 1, 1919 – January 27, 2010
I keep opening and editing this post with the intent of writing something—anything—to commemorate the loss of Salinger from all of our lives, since I suspect many of us are feeling the same thing right now.
J.D. Salinger is the writer who made it okay for me be a reader. It’s hard to be a cynical kid. The sense of mistrust that accompanies early tendencies toward cynicism (and loneliness, and arrogance, and…) makes it difficult to take anyone’s word on what books are good to read, but I’m glad that I listened to my dad when he gave me his battered copy of The Catcher in the Rye. I must have been 10 or 11 years old, I guess. I read the whole thing in a weekend, which felt like a monumental accomplishment at that age.
Next up was Franny and Zooey, which I devoured with a similar ferocity, followed by Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction shortly thereafter. I was a bit older (16, perhaps) when I finally dipped into Nine Stories. I was beside myself with teenage glee when I discovered the source of inspiration for not one, but two songs by my then-favorite band, the Cure, within its pages.
When I was 18, I got my first pet ferret. I named him Salinger.
I try to read The Catcher in the Rye at least once a year, and the rest of Salinger’s (small) cannon of published work whenever I feel like I need a reminder of the enormous impact the characters he created have had on my life—and the total development of my personality. (I’ve always thought of my family as being more than a bit Glass-ish, after all.) This letter, written by Salinger in response to yet another request to acquire the film rights to Catcher, perfectly sums up the reasons why I admire him not only as a writer, but as a man of artistic integrity. J.D. Salinger never gave us more than he wanted to, and I respect him immensely for that.
(By the way, did you know that Salinger had a lifelong design clause in his contract that stipulated his books covers could not contain any imagery? Fabulous.)
(EDIT: If you’re into the whole book cover thing, check out this great essay by Michael Bierut, “The Book (Cover) That Changed My Life”.)
When someone dies at the age of 91, it’s a bit of a stretch to be surprised. I think I thought J.D. Salinger would somehow live forever, though.