Music + Movies + Books

My earliest (and most enduring) source of inspiration.

I hope to hell that when I do die somebody has the sense to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.
J.D. Salinger
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.

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  • Reply Danielle January 28, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    After I read Catcher in the Rye, in high school, all the other books seemed boring!

  • Reply Fat Cat January 28, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    OH NO ! I can’t believe they did not mention his death on the news here in Belgium…
    Catcher in the Rye – the only book I keep in three editions : a tattered German paperback with my annotations from school, a French vintage edition I found on a flea market when I was at university and a brand new English one I bought recently because I finally wanted to read the original…

  • Reply Tess January 28, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    At 91 he had quite a long life. Franny and Zooey is my favorite.

  • Reply PP January 28, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Missed that news in the UK – I’m sad too.. named two of my kids after his characters x

  • Reply jennifer in sf January 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    “A Sensitive, Intelligent, Talented Young Actor in a Reversible Coat wouldn’t nearly be enough.”

    No it really wouldn’t.

  • Reply Emma Angel January 28, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Thank you so much for writing such a lovely post. He was indeed a very remarkable author and will never be forgotten.

  • Reply Chris January 28, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Both Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey are books that I talk about when someone asks me what kind of writing I like. Overly descriptive and random at times.

    Unfortunately, I found this on the Globe & Mail in Canada:


  • Reply Kate January 28, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    I think I thought he would live forever, too. I read The Catcher every year around Christmas; it’s a favorite of mine. I felt like it was written for me, as I’m sure so many other people did when they discovered it. Such a sad loss.

  • Reply Brismod January 28, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Anna, you wrote a nice tribute on an important 20th century writer. I think that letter he wrote to Mr Herbert summed him up perfectly.

  • Reply Tasha January 28, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    I like the simple covers, but I’d never heard that they were the result of a contract stipulation. Thanks for that info! I have, however, seen this cover of “Catcher in the Rye” everywhere:

    I wonder what’s the deal there?

  • Reply jenna/sweet fine day January 28, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Beautiful post Anna. Thanks.

  • Reply Anna at D16 January 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Chris & Tasha: Both of those covers predate the contract stipulation. The latter of the two (the one on Amazon) is a reissue of the original cover design.

    Michael Bierut wrote an excellent essay on the history of the cover of TCITR that you might find interesting!!

  • Reply Kim January 28, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    I devoured all of those books, too. I named my two cats Franny and Zooey. They are brother and sister.

  • Reply Mary-Ellen January 28, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    This really ruined my day.

    At least his legacy of characters will live on forever. Every time I pass the pond in Central Park, I wonder, as Holden did, what happens to the ducks in winter?

  • Reply Justine January 28, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    “The apartment below mine had the only balcony of the house. I saw a girl standing on it, completely submerged in the pool of autumn twilight. She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.”

  • Reply Dan January 28, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Anna, thanks for bringing this to my attention. Somehow with Haiti-State of the Union- Republicans abusing the filibuster- Heidi’s friggin plastic surgery– I managed to miss this piece of news.

    I’ll admit, I’ve only read two of those four books. And only once. But they do make an enormous and lasting impression. And Salinger’s right– Catcher in the Rye could not be a good movie. Not to mention that the literary presence of the book just couldn’t be given its proper attention in a film, too many people have far too many ideas about who Holden is, and that internal notion of him is way too important and way too personal to distill into a single character onscreen. The best way, maybe, to pay tribute to his work is to use his mammoth literary shadow as inspiration without attempting to copy it. I like Wes Anderson’s incarnation of the Glass family in The Royal Tenenbaums, for example. Maybe that’s too controversial to say here. But to make a movie of a Salinger story would be sort of sinful, even with the best of intentions.

    A death is always sad, but at least comfort can be taken in the quality of his incredible and indelible legacy.

  • Reply mommy January 28, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    I thought about you when I saw the news this morning.

    Having just read that interesting essay by Michael Bierut, I wonder how to consciously design a book cover that will remain so special? I wonder how much the content affects the way we see the cover? I’ve noticed that I seem to remember the exact color of certain books forever.

  • Reply dkzody January 28, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    I’ve been discussing this with my students all day. Most didn’t know who Salinger was nor had read his books. Sad.

  • Reply Jillian January 28, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    I read Catcher in the Rye in high school (when I realized, shocked, that no one was going to make us read it), and Franny & Zooey and Nine Stories in college. F&Z was one of those books from which, out of nowhere I will recall a random quote or scene. It has simply stuck with me in my sub-conscious all these years.

  • Reply Richard January 28, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    That man sure had integrity. I’m glad he stuck to his guns

  • Reply Anna at D16 January 28, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Dan: No controversy–actually, I think you nailed it. I’ve compared the Tenenbaums to the Glass family myself, in fact (I actually think the first words out of my mouth after leaving the theater were, “Richie sure is a lot like Seymour, isn’t he?”), and I do believe that it’s impossible to not be influenced by Salinger’s voice (or at least the voices of his characters) in one’s own writing, filmmaking, or other creative endeavor. There is no way to walk away from Holden Caulfield or Franny Glass and not feel just a little bit validated by them.

    Also, just a general note to everyone who read Salinger’s books when they were young: Go back and read them again now. It’s shocking how different they are when read with an adult’s perspective.

    (Why don’t schools require that kids read Salinger, anyway? I’ve never understood that. He is one of the greatest American authors of all time. Are we really still that afraid of angst, ennui, and depression? A: Yes.)

  • Reply Rachel Kay January 29, 2010 at 8:11 am

    I was so saddened by this. I found out yesterday through my boyfriend. He was at a work table quiz to raise money for Haiti, and the question came up about what author had died that day. He texted me straight away as he knows what a fan I am of Salinger’s work.
    When I was a kid my dad gave me his copies of all the books from when he was young , and I still have them. My first Christmas present to my boyfriend was a lovely hardback edition of Nine Stories. I think I’ll be reading these books forever, there’s nothing like them.
    All I can say is that at least he lived a long life, and that I hope it was one he was happy in.

  • Reply tolmsted January 29, 2010 at 9:25 am

    I found out about Salinger’s death yesterday on the ride home listening to NPR. Franny & Zooey is my favorite book, and is the book I most often recommend and give to friends. In college I made a pilgrimage to the NY Public Library in order to print out “Hapworth 16, 1924” from microfilm. And while I can’t say I’m saddened by his death – 91 is a good run – I am hoping now that critics will finally be able to step back and give his work the credit it has always deserved. While I have always respected his right and desire for privacy, sometimes I feel that his work has been obscured by his personality and reputation as a recluse.

    For so many he has been defined by Catcher in the Rye – when it is my belief that he was/is one of America’s best short story writers. If anyone reading this has only Catcher as a reference point – then I sincerely recommend picking up one of his other books (short story collections).

    Thank you for the post Anna.

  • Reply vintage simple January 29, 2010 at 9:31 am

    What a wonderful tribute, Anna. Beautifully written.


  • Reply Denise January 30, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    A few wondered why CITR isn’t read in high school today. It is, in AP English 11, which is a standardized national course.
    My daughter just finished it a few weeks ago, and from what I can observe, had little reaction to it. I have to be honest, I didn’t have a strong, lifelong reaction either, though many I know did. “My” book was (and still is) Wuthering Heights.

  • Reply Kathryn February 3, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    My favorite author as well. He will be very missed in our home. I named my daughter Zoe as a tribute to Franny and Zooey. I wanted to name her Zoe Frances but was voted out, unfortunately. I realized I had something great on my hands when I was caught reading “Catcher” in school when I was 12. My teacher confiscated the book from me for the entire year (this was the deep south). From then on, I devoured every one of his books with glee. They are all so lovely.

  • Reply colleen February 9, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    thanks for reminding me to give my little nephew my Catcher copy to read when he is around that age, too. He is 5. Thanks, you’re great.

  • Reply featherbed April 4, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Really funny quote 🙂

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