(Note: Although I’ve moved most non-Scrivener related posts over to my Machine Dreams blog following a couple of users taking umbrage over my opinions on the objectively terrible Battlestar Galactica finale, I’m making an exception for this one. This is a re-post from the forums, and I feel it’s justified purely because J.D. Salinger was one of the authors who made me want to write, and thus had a direct impact on the eventual development of Scrivener. Justification over.)
J.D. Salinger died the day before yesterday. I don’t suppose it will be considered by many as exactly a huge loss to literature given that he stopped publishing anything over fifty years ago, but still, I feel I have to pay my respects in some way as he was my absolute favourite author in my early twenties. Of course, it’s not difficult to read all of his published works – a grand total of four extant books (one novel, one collection of short stories and two books containing two longer stories each). But I was such a fan that I tracked down much of the difficult-to-get stuff, the stories he refused to have reprinted. On a visit to the US, for instance, I went to a library and accessed the microfiche archives of the New Yorker to get a copy of his last-ever story (“Hapworth 16, 1924” – disappointing, as it made Seymour Glass seem an annoyingly precocious brat, quite at odds with his morose but seraphic portrayal in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, and if that is the direction Salinger’s writing was taking then maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to withdraw and let readers appreciate his past achievements).
But even more obsessive, when I did my MA and had access to the British Library, I spent two weeks hand-copying The Inverted Forest – a rare bootlegged collection of 22 of Salinger’s stories that he has never allowed to be republished (I’m pretty sure the book itself was illegal, so I’m not sure what it was doing in the British Library but I’m glad it was there). I sincerely hope his family allow these stories to be republished now, even though it may be against his wishes, as they are wonderful. “A Young Girl in 1921 with No Waist At All” remains one of my favourite ever short stories. I don’t know why. Not much happens – it’s just beautiful, somehow, and whilst stories like “Teddy” seemed profound to me in my early twenties, it is these less ostentatiously Zen stories that still resound with me now.
So, thank you Mr Salinger. If the rumours are to believed, you may well have been the grumpiest man alive. You may have eaten frozen peas and raw sheep, drank your own urine, sent love letters to Winona Ryder and had a penchant for lawsuits that Apple would envy, and I have no doubt that you would have despised me for my fanboyism, but I thank you all the same. For Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caulfield with his poor broken hand and his cool sister Phoebe. For the Glass family, with their tendency to take long baths and make phone calls to each other from within the same house to discuss Eastern philosophy. And for making me really think about the meaning of the words on the page, how a broken record could be a metaphor for a dead brother.
So I don’t care what the naysayers say (they say nay). To me, J.D. Salinger deserves his place as a Great Author of the Twentieth Century, and I hope the kids of my kids are still taking university courses on the works of Salinger and Mr Vonnegut in forty or fifty years’ time, or just holing up as teenagers in their bedrooms and nodding or grunting agreement with Holden about the phoniness of the world around them.
I am sorry that he’s gone.