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In Search of Salinger
January 1, 2009 12:17 AM   Subscribe

"I'm known as a strange, aloof kind of man. But all I'm doing is trying to protect myself and my work." Reclusive author J. D. Salinger today celebrates his 90th birthday.

He hasn't published an original work since 1965, but he continues to attract followers, and to avoid them. He told one uninvited visitor in 1978, "There's no gracious way to tell you to leave. I'm becoming embittered."

But interviews with the author do exist.
posted by Knappster (73 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have a friend who went to Dartmouth and he said spotting Salinger at the school bookstore was a pretty common occurrence.

I dunno. That made me a little sad. I want the dude to be fingering a shotgun and peeping out the lock of his front door, next to a row of milk bottles filled with his own urine.
posted by bardic at 12:26 AM on January 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


That dude is such a phony.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:56 AM on January 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


He's a crumby phony.
posted by bardic at 1:10 AM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


After so many of these posts that start out making me think someone famous has died, but end with an update, I've started to wish a celebrity would just die. Abe Vigoda, perhaps.
posted by stavrogin at 1:19 AM on January 1, 2009


A few years ago NPR did an entire show for the anniversary of "Catcher in the Rye". The conversation steered towards the movie rights, and apparently Salinger was/is adamantly opposed to a movie version (not surprising, since Holden Caulfield voices his disapproval of Hollywood in the book itself). But the most interesting story someone said is that Salinger was interested in a stageplay version of, and Salinger was adamant about playing Holden himself. Apparently no producers were willing to do it and it never took off.
posted by zardoz at 1:23 AM on January 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


not surprising, since Holden Caulfield voices his disapproval of Hollywood in the book itself

I'm sure Holden Caulfield would have hated "The Catcher in the Rye", too.
posted by sour cream at 1:28 AM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I never fully understood the Catcher in the Rye, at least not when I was forced to read it in English class when I was 15. It just seemed bleak and unpleasant. Now I know the author I can understand it a little better and how accurately it speaks of the truth, at least for JD Salinger. From the conversations he's had with people I think he still believes people are just a bunch of phonies and this belief has made it difficult for him to spend time with people. And when you do things that should be fun by yourself these activities become as bleak and empty as Holden's nights on the town. Holden Caulfield, and by extension Salinger, shouldn't be a hero to the socially akward. They should be a warning.
posted by Pseudology at 1:42 AM on January 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


I have a friend who went to Dartmouth and he said spotting Salinger at the school bookstore was a pretty common occurrence.

I went to Dartmouth and I've also heard that Salinger is occasionally spotted at the Dartmouth Bookstore. I never heard of anyone specific who supposedly has seen him. I think it's probably one of those myths that's believable only because few people "know" it.
posted by cotterpin at 2:00 AM on January 1, 2009


I'm not Holden my breath.
posted by sourwookie at 2:15 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I like TCitR myself, but it's really not a good book to teach to high school students (having done it myself). People who haven't read it for a while forget how truly dark and borderline disturbing some of it is (the novel ends with Holden writing from a psych ward, at a time when he would probably have been undergoing electro-shock therapy). There's just a lot of shit going down that's hard to explain to high-school kids without pretty much having an open-ended discussion of child abuse, alcohol abuse, and smoking. (And I'm a fan of alcohol myself, but having to tip-toe around the subject while teaching a book about an under-age alcoholic is a special kind of painful).

So I'd like to meet the asshole who thought it was a good idea to teach this book at such a young age, or that it somehow helps kids "through the rough patches" of the teen years. Because I'd like to punch them in their crumby, phony faces. I remember asking my boss at the high school I taught at why we were teaching this thing to freshan, i.e., 14 year-olds. He had the ultimate non-answer: "Because that's what we teach to all our freshmen."
posted by bardic at 2:20 AM on January 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


Will Smith's TCitR monologue from [the movie] Six Degrees of Separation.
posted by Poolio at 2:55 AM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


What the hell is up with the blocking in that Six Degrees clip? I hope it's not that distracting throughout the whole movie.
posted by dogwalker at 3:27 AM on January 1, 2009


There's just a lot of shit going down that's hard to explain to high-school kids without pretty much having an open-ended discussion of child abuse, alcohol abuse, and smoking.

Wasn't that probably the original intent?

Still, I agree in the sense that books like this kind of blow when they are part of some damned curriculum or another.
posted by lesChaps at 3:34 AM on January 1, 2009


I've read Catcher in the Rye about 20 times and taught it in high school, and I still don't understand why everyone insists that Holden's telling the story from a psych ward. Can someone explain this to me? I know he's in some sort of medical institution, but after all, he says he caught pneumonia.
posted by creasy boy at 4:22 AM on January 1, 2009


This attitude is loony:
Then Clarkson tried to explain why he believed the author owed him a hearing. "He has gone into people's homes and they've put down money for his books and joined his following," Clarkson recapitulates now. "He can't just leave them. These people want to hear something from their leader."
He hasn't gone into anyone's home. People bought a book. When you buy a book, the transaction between you and the author is complete. All the rest is between you and the book. Sane people know this.

Salinger has had a steady income and some sort of place in American literary history for the last forty or fifty years. If he hasn't been writing what he wanted to write since then, or he just hasn't felt like publishing, it's good that he didn't publish just to please fans and publishers.

And now he's 90. Depending on his instructions to his executors and on how scrupulously they follow those instructions, fans might soon see a few more things. Or maybe there'll be a nice fire out behind the house.
posted by pracowity at 4:35 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


salinger or watterson.... I would much rather meet the guy who created calvinball then the guy who created love letters for sociopaths...
posted by evilgenius at 5:08 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


>I never fully understood the Catcher in the Rye, at least not when I was forced to read it in English class when I was 15. It just seemed bleak and unpleasant.

really? at 15 you didnt understand bleak and unpleasant?
posted by evilgenius at 5:21 AM on January 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


really? at 15 you didnt understand bleak and unpleasant?

I never understood the forced assumed universality of it--as if finally, finally! the Adults have the Key to Understanding Those Darn Young People And How They Feel, and they can pretend to be sympathetic and worm some "literature" into students' unwilling brains on the basis of commanding them to read a book about a jerky private school kid in the 50s.
posted by sandking at 5:56 AM on January 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


Years ago, there was a column on Slate about whether we should value Catcher so highly or not. It was the first time I actually commented on something online, simply because, as one of those teens that read it, and was thankful, I felt the need to defend it. That article was going at it from the perspective that, as an adult, the book is borderline unreadable. And, to be honest, it's a book that, past high school, I've never been able to really get into, or get through. The gist of what I said is that it doesn't matter that now, when we're all grown up, it's not meaningful to us, what matters is that then, when we were young, it held great meaning, and said, effectively, this hell hole that you're in, you're not alone in it.

In that sense, should it matter if, as an adult, I can't readily connect with the novel again? I'm not currently drowning, for example. Does that mean life preservers are useless? Does everyone who reads it in high school really enjoy it? Do all students really get it? Of course not. Most likely, those folks actually enjoyed junior high school.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:58 AM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Reading it at 25, I found it kind of funny, kind of interesting, but I felt most for his little sister. I wasn't hugely excited by it.
posted by alexei at 6:03 AM on January 1, 2009


"I've gone through this so many times," (Salinger) said sadly. "There's no gracious way to tell you to leave. I'm becoming embittered. The words are a little different each time. People with problems, people needing to communicate, people wanting help for their careers. They've collared me in elevators, on the street, even here," he continued. "I get stacks of mail and questions every day. But there are no generalizations. I'm not a teacher or a seer. I pose questions a little differently, perhaps. But I don't pretend to know the answers. When I started in this business, I had no idea this was going to happen. In ways, I regret ever having been published."

This is a clear and easy-to-understand explanation of why Salinger no longer wants to deal with the public. Anyone who still tries to hunt him down after hearing this is either an idiot or an asshole.

"He has gone into people's homes and they've put down money for his books and joined his following," Clarkson recapitulates now. "He can't just leave them. These people want to hear something from their leader."

Or, in some cases, idiots and assholes.
posted by spoobnooble at 6:07 AM on January 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


What the hell is up with the blocking in that Six Degrees clip?

The movie is based on a play. (Not a justification, but at least an explanation, for their weird movements.)
posted by voltairemodern at 6:13 AM on January 1, 2009


Though I have not read it in years, I do feel its a great book.

Part of growing up is learning that the morality tales and rules of society that we are told to live by are nice, but also largely ignored by the majority of people who are in fact selfish, mean, and terrified. Its a mind f_ck for a young person to realize that things don't operate the way he/she has been told they should their whole life (and obviously inherent in that is leading a priveledged life where young people are sheltered from the harsher realities of the world, something that probably only affected large swaths of USians starting ~ the 50s)

Would the book still resonate with me if I read it now, maybe, maybe not, but I felt a connection with it when I was that age, and I think its a good thing for kids. Look we want are kids to read, and so books HAVE to be part of a curriculum, and of course one size does not fit all. Still I think its a good choice, and works on many levels.

Also, if memory serves, he states at the beginning he is in a hospital for "exhaustion" Which back in the day was code for "I have been commited for depression/suicidal tendencies"
posted by rosswald at 6:19 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


People magazine in 1980 was well written and covered authors. Not so much now though.
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:21 AM on January 1, 2009


For Esmé - with Love and Squalor is one of my favorite short stories for some reason or another. I always feel bad for Salinger whenever I hear little snippets about his life. I'm glad he got to live such a long one, I just wonder if it was as full as it could have been. He seems like a deeply discontented man who simultaneously wants to be heard and be left entirely alone. For the better part of a half century he's been living out Holden's vision of a deaf-mute hermit when it comes to interacting with the public, yet in interviews he's admitted that being published posthumously has crossed his mind. He's an old man now, I hope he comes to peace with his life's work before he dies and finds the courage to leave it in the world instead of dragging it to the grave with him.

"Don't ever tell anyone anything or else you'll wind up missing everybody" - Holden Caulfield.
posted by CheshireCat at 6:25 AM on January 1, 2009


"Don't ever tell anyone anything or else you'll wind up missing everybody." - Holden Caulfield

I always thought that was basically the key to the book; he has this insight but doesn't see how following the principle inevitably leads to "phoniness." He's an insightful, solipsistic (which is to say, typical) 15-year-old who hasn't yet grasped how not-unusual he is.
posted by GrammarMoses at 6:53 AM on January 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


The book is not for adults. In the same way that I Am the Cheese can be a wonderful first taste of the concept of narrator unreliability (and you might think it's silly, but you have no idea how many teens upon whom I have foisted that book come back to me shocked at the ending), The Catcher in the Rye is a good beginner read if you will ever tackle ... I'm not an English major, I wouldn't know what to call it, so I'll make something up ... existential dissatisfaction.

Caulfield's almost gnostic distaste for the whole rotten world is excellent timing for teenagers who develop the insight that their parents might not be unfair so much as have some unpleasant human failings. Childhood, that thing Caulfield wanted to protect (and go back to) can be fearful, and certainly filled with things you don't understand, but when you begin to understand, the world can take on a very ugly flavor. That's what teenagers are meant to connect with.

Much of the book's message can be summed up between the title and the conversation with Mr. Anatolini. Anatolini points out that Caulfield has few options: he can either try to do something noble and pure, and most likely end up destroyed for his trouble, or he can grow up, accept the world, and try to change it more gently, rather than alternating between shaking his fist at everything and running away in search of childhood's purity — something you can do only so long.

If we no longer can connect with it when we're grown, that may be sad, but it's incidental to the purpose of the book.

I suspect Salinger has found living up to what he wrote to be more difficult than he expected. When you have money, enough money to insulate you from much of the world, shaking your fist and running away turns into an option again.
posted by adipocere at 7:03 AM on January 1, 2009 [12 favorites]


If he hasn't been writing what he wanted to write since then, or he just hasn't felt like publishing, it's good that he didn't publish just to please fans and publishers

Writers with an enduring reputation and a steady stream of money and little else to say not infrequently stop writing. No real surprise there. It's the hacks (I say that with respect, by the way) who churn it out year after year, adding to the total sum of human happiness.

Truman Capote in an interview back in the seventies said that in fact he had been writing stuff but that it was all zen Buddhist weird and the New Yorker wouldn't publish it.

Apparently this was fuss worthy at the time to those who give a damn about Salinger. (For the record, I've not much use for him. (And don't get me started on Madeleine L'Engel.))
posted by IndigoJones at 7:11 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seymour: An Introduction is one of the finest pieces of writing in the second half of the 20th century. It's a truly amazing piece of writing. It is rarely mentioned and even more rarely read, which is such a shame. I always hope that when Salinger passes his estate publishes some great work, so remarkable that he is sealed as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, but no one knew it until the 21st. I am not hopeful because Hapworth is insufferable garbage.
posted by milarepa at 7:22 AM on January 1, 2009


Ooh. That NY Times article was pretty good.

I think trying to read off a consistent 'message' from any novel, and then rating said novel on the extent to which it provides one, and on the extent to which the message agrees with your personal ideology, isn't very useful. What's the point of the dialectic of fiction if a novel doesn't contain a multitude of competing voices?

I love Franny and Zooey, but I wouldn't necessarily argue that the Glass family can be irritating, and self-obsessed, and that they spout 'a certain amount of sentimental and half-baked mysticism' as the author of the NYT article would have it. But, for me at least, that's only problematic if you believe they're intended as poorly-veiled mouthpieces for the author's opinions, rather than characters. The younger Glasses are young, articulate, intelligent middle-class kids trying to make sense of the world, and their dialogue feels convincing to me. They're fallible, and silly, and, frankly, I really like them for it.

Same with Holden Caulfield. Dismantling the novel's supposed ideology only creates problems if you think we're supposed to view Holden as 'the last sane man', or that Mr Anatolini's take is the 'correct' way to see Holden's predicament. I think some of these oversimplified analyses are a hangover from the book being taught to teenagers, who are taught to isolate quotations and read off the underlying message without necessarily appreciating that it might be both a lot more nuanced, and far far simpler than that.
posted by RokkitNite at 7:26 AM on January 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


*Sorry, that start of the 3rd para should read 'but I wouldn't necessarily argue against the position that...'
posted by RokkitNite at 7:27 AM on January 1, 2009


The Catcher In The Rye is emo. Nobody understands me, they're all phonies!
posted by inigo2 at 7:37 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, I honestly thought he was dead long ago, it just never occured to me he could still be alive.

Oh, and RokkitNite, thank you for explaining that so perfectly. Most people just don't get that, and that's usually why they dislike the book.
posted by symbollocks at 7:46 AM on January 1, 2009


Franny and Zooey really hit me hard in my early teenage years. I grew up in a family that took Catholicism and saying the rosary very seriously. I spent evenings upstairs with my grandparents, who if they weren't watching Gunsmoke or wrestling on the TV, were saying the rosary and always had beads at hand, as did I. I was very comforting to be in a loving environment with mumbled prayers joining us in something bigger.
Then I figured out that God was not really listening and the Saints I was saying Novenas to were just a way to teach illiterates useful stories with moral lessons, as myths have always been used.
What a let down!
Then there's Franny obsessively saying the Jesus prayer, and it is akin to eastern mysticism, allowing me to see the rosary as the same thing - meditation. I had a little teenage oneness with the universe experience, where I could see that at center all religions lead to the same thing, requiring contemplation and spirituality, belief in God or heaven and hell were beside the point. Since Zen Buddism was everywhere and this was the time of Hare Krishna and the Children of God cult, it gave me a little place to think about religion.
I enjoyed the rest of Salinger, but the mental vision of Franny on the couch, mumbling her prayers, while her family tries to figure out what's up, resonates.
posted by readery at 7:50 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's just a lot of shit going down that's hard to explain to high-school kids without pretty much having an open-ended discussion of child abuse, alcohol abuse, and smoking.

My high-school English teacher dealt with this by having an open-ended, practically semester long conversation about child abuse, alcohol abuse, and smoking with us. I'm not sure how you can teach this book without those discussions.

Then again, we read a lot of hard-core shit in that class, which was good.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:59 AM on January 1, 2009


Am I a bad person for being a little eager that Salinger should die so that we can have a look at whatever manuscripts he's held back?
posted by orange swan at 8:01 AM on January 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Many many years ago, at the house of a friend's parents I found a copy of Catcher in the Rye on the bookshelf, opened it up, and found it to be inscribed by Salinger himself sometime back in the 50s; the inscription, which I can no longer remember verbatim, was something about him regretting that the book was always shelved out of the reach of the children for whom it was intended.
posted by mandal at 8:09 AM on January 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


"None but a fool ever wrote for any reason other than money" or something to that effect (cf. Dr. Johnson)

Didn't his girlfriend, sorry, his ex write some scathing article/book about him a couple years back? It was wholly unflattering, painting him as a fallible, human man with good and bad points. Something about frozen peas in there too.

I enjoy his writing, have enjoyed and re-read his books since I was a teen-ager and expect I will continue to do so. It's not all *brilliant*, but it is more often than not interesting and entertaining.

I'll happily put money on his not having written anything of merit in the intervening years, but it will be 'edited' into some kind of shape within the first six months after he's died and foisted on people as his last, lost novel - a la Hemmingway/ Nabokov.

Where there's a buck to be made, I guess.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:44 AM on January 1, 2009


Adipocere, I agree. There are some books that really resonate when you are a teenager- in my case books by Salinger and Vonnegut. As adults, we sometimes act as if these were inferior books because we no longer want to read them. So which *are* the superior books? The books we read as young adults? The books we read in middle age? Or are the really profound books the ones we appreciate in our 90s?

I read "Catcher in the Rye" three times: twice in my teens, when I completely identified with Holden, and once as a young adult, when I realized that I had grown into adulthood and he hadn't. And now I have no interest in reading it again. Which is the correct response? Or are all three correct?

I don't know. I think we are lucky if we happen to read a book at just the right time and it makes an indelible impression. I just now read Philip Roth's "The Ghost Writer". I'd been meaning to read it since it came out in 1979, but didn't get around to it. I wonder what I would have thought it I had read it then, because reading it now, I bring to it an adult ruefulness and understanding I never would have had as a teenager.

The answer, I suppose, is to read early and often, value what has struck home, and be generous if other people are struck by other things. What Holden Caulfield was to me, perhaps Harry Potter is to today's kids. If so, hurray.
posted by acrasis at 8:45 AM on January 1, 2009


orange swan, I was thinking exactly the same thing. I'm one of those crazy, samizdat-making Salinger fans. One particularly heartbroken summer after re-reading Franny and Zooey, I took a day off from work, and drove as far east as I had to go to get to a D.C. Metro stop, and rode up to Capitol Hill, and wandered rather innocently into the Library of Congress. I found myself a librarian, and asked how I would go about getting copies of Salinger's uncollected stories from 1940s and '50s magazines.

After wandering lost in the underground tunnels for what seemed an eternity, I finally ended up with a full photocopy card, filling out requests for rolls and rolls of microfilm. I had to ask a rather annoyed and unpleasant gentleman to help me load the film into the reader/printer (in retrospect, he may not have even worked there. Sorry, dude).

That was the day I learned to always read your copies carefully before going home for the day, because I'm missing one page from "The Inverted Forest." The copies, so faded now they look like old blueprints, are still in the bottom of a desk drawer here in my kitchen. Doesn't matter, because I think it's all available on the internet, now.

Happy birthday, old sport!
posted by steef at 8:46 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Am I a bad person for being a little eager that Salinger should die so that we can have a look at whatever manuscripts he's held back?

Sadly, this is bound to happen. I cringed when Kubrick's Fear and Desire had gotten the "Thank God he's dead, now let's make a buck off his rotting corpse" treatment.
posted by cazoo at 10:18 AM on January 1, 2009


One of my teachers in high school gave me "Catcher in the Rye" to read because she felt I was "ready" for it. I think she was pretty disappointed by my reaction, which was "Why doesn't he shut up and just DO something?"

Just like so many others, I hated my parents and was occasionally very depressed in high school, but I still couldn't relate to the unrelenting bleakness of that book.
posted by Evangeline at 10:25 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Didn't his girlfriend, sorry, his ex write some scathing article/book about him a couple years back? It was wholly unflattering, painting him as a fallible, human man with good and bad points. Something about frozen peas in there too.

That was Joyce Maynard. They lived together for ten months when she was 18 and Salinger was 53. And her account of their relationship was VERY unflattering. Salinger comes across as weirdo. (Not that Maynard comes across as much better — she's utterly self-absorbed. It's no accident that she mostly writes about herself.) He was on some uncooked food kick and, one night after they'd taken his son out for supper and stuffed themselves on pizza, talked Maynard into joining him as he made himself vomit up all that unhealthy pizza. After which she became bulimic. The image of the two of them in a bathroom with their fingers down their throats was really not one I wanted or need to have in my mind whenever I try to read Salinger.
posted by orange swan at 10:33 AM on January 1, 2009


Truman Capote in an interview back in the seventies said that in fact he had been writing stuff but that it was all zen Buddhist weird and the New Yorker wouldn't publish it.

Truman Capote lied a lot.

Just sayin'.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:42 AM on January 1, 2009


He hasn't gone into anyone's home. People bought a book. When you buy a book, the transaction between you and the author is complete. All the rest is between you and the book. Sane people know this.

It's not surprising that people believe this. People believe that appearing in a movie or making a CD obliges you to share every detail of your sex life, every meal you have, every relationship jot with the public - and, if necessary, to be hunted (literally to death, if need be), by the proxies of the public, because they went to your movie or bought your CD or maybe just heard about you in a gossip rag. You owe people!

There's just a lot of shit going down that's hard to explain to high-school kids without pretty much having an open-ended discussion of child abuse, alcohol abuse, and smoking.

My high-school English teacher dealt with this by having an open-ended, practically semester long conversation about child abuse, alcohol abuse, and smoking with us. I'm not sure how you can teach this book without those discussions.


I had one of those sorts of Egnlish teacher. I was greatful.

If your high school English teachers are too scared to teach anything that involves "shit that's hard to explain", well, it's no wonder so many people end up thinking English lit is bullshit. It's like trying to teach biology without discussing anything that might disturb religious loons - a complete waste of time.
posted by rodgerd at 10:43 AM on January 1, 2009


Opening a book looking for a character you'll always identify with is setting yourself up to hate literature. Holden resonates because there is someone like Holden, or because we were once like Holden. If that's because we were stupid and inexperienced when we were 15, well...
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:46 AM on January 1, 2009


J.D. Salinger's women.
posted by availablelight at 10:56 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's just a lot of shit going down that's hard to explain to high-school kids without pretty much having an open-ended discussion of child abuse, alcohol abuse, and smoking. (And I'm a fan of alcohol myself, but having to tip-toe around the subject while teaching a book about an under-age alcoholic is a special kind of painful).

I don't see anything wrong with it. By that time, a lot of those "kids" are active alcoholics, smoking and have been abused (not necessarily all three together). Even the ones who have perfectly happy lives think they're special snowflakes by that age, lives full of petty drama, so it's good to pull them out of that way of thinking for a little bit and look at how bad things can get for someone. Life used to be much more difficult and purely adult for someone in their teens not very long ago, which really is sort of an extended childhood of very recent invention.

There are always disaffected, disenchanted people in any crowd. Art is about identifying with that feeling. Therapy is about trying to work through it. I don't expect therapy from fictional works, and often find them to be somewhat distorted views of the world, but that's also what makes them worth reading. I also don't think it's necessary to like the person of the author to like the work.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:41 AM on January 1, 2009


Art is about identifying with that feeling.

Not always. I should have said, identifying with that feeling is artistic.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:43 AM on January 1, 2009


And btw, I don't know if it's been brought up, but Romeo and Juliet is usually taught in middle school in the US, grade 6-8. Is that a good age to be talking about teenage suicide pacts and the allure of forbidden love love in a class system? I'd rather it be that than some warmed-up pablum telling them life is peachy, because they'll find out soon enough that it sure as shit is not.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:45 AM on January 1, 2009


J.D. Salinger's women

A year before I was born, one of them -for a couple of months only - was my biological mother (from whom I've been estranged since 1984).
posted by nickyskye at 12:03 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I had to ask a rather annoyed and unpleasant gentleman to help me load the film into the reader/printer...

I do this at work and I bet people say this about me all the time.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:07 PM on January 1, 2009


There's just a lot of shit going down that's hard to explain to high-school kids without pretty much having an open-ended discussion of child abuse, alcohol abuse, and smoking. (And I'm a fan of alcohol myself, but having to tip-toe around the subject while teaching a book about an under-age alcoholic is a special kind of painful).

When I was in high school, I was extremely grateful for the fact that the book did not tip-toe, and I certainly related to it more than most of the other books we were reading at the time.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:08 PM on January 1, 2009


>I never fully understood the Catcher in the Rye, at least not when I was forced to read it in English class when I was 15. It just seemed bleak and unpleasant.

really? at 15 you didnt understand bleak and unpleasant?
posted by evilgenius at 5:21 AM on January 1 [1 favorite -] Favorite added! [!]

No, I did. I spent the previous two years in a boarding school where physical abuse was an informal means of discipline at the bottom of the social shitpile. I knew people had a great capacity for cruelty and to an extent I still intuitively believe that anyone who behaves in a friendly manner towards me is faking it for one reason or another. But I know that's not true. I've been in Holden's position a few times but I didn't actually believe that phoniness and the bleak hollow feeling he experienced in the book was a universal constant even if it felt that way a few times.

Besides. Phony? I mean come on. Like he should play the victim. He told a girl he loved her just so he could "give her the time" I think the words he used were. The true irony of suffering from the cruel of society is that we are all complicit.
posted by Pseudology at 12:09 PM on January 1, 2009


Armchair analysis: Schizoid personality disorder with a pattern of attraction to pathological narcissists.

According to the ICD-10, schizoid personality disorder is characterized by at least three of the following criteria:

Only 3 traits needed for the diagnosis. 6 are applicable from what has been written about him:
* Emotional coldness, detachment or reduced affection.
* Consistent preference for solitary activities.
* Very few, if any, close friends or relationships, and a lack of desire for such.
* Indifference to social norms and conventions.
* Preoccupation with fantasy and introspection
* Lack of desire for sexual experiences with another person.

"Ralph Klein, Clinical Director of the Masterson Institute delineates the following nine characteristics of the schizoid personality as described by Harry Guntrip: introversion, withdrawnness, narcissism, self-sufficiency, a sense of superiority, loss of affect, loneliness, depersonalization, and regression."

"In 1998, Joyce Maynard cashed in her affair with J.D. Salinger (At Home in the World) by trying to expose her ex-lover's persona and elevate her own status."

“Joyce,” [referring the Joyce Maynard with whom Salinger lived for years] he continues, “is the most self-obsessed person I’ve ever met. She gives narcissism a bad name.”

I feel badly for J.D. Salinger's daughter, Margaret Salinger, although she wrote a very good memoir, Dream Catcher. "Ms. Salinger's memoir is not simply the story of living through a difficult childhood with an unusual father. Readers will see how Salinger's reality and his fictive realities blend."
posted by nickyskye at 12:14 PM on January 1, 2009


really? at 15 you didnt understand bleak and unpleasant?

It's a big wide world. Not every teenager spends his high school years wallowing in emo angst. Surprisingly, even some smart, literate teenagers experience brief bouts of optimism.
posted by Evangeline at 12:15 PM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had one of those sorts of Egnlish teacher. I was greatful.

But she/he still wishes you had learned to spell English words properly! ; )
posted by ericb at 12:35 PM on January 1, 2009


I was wondering if we'd get a Holden thread on New Year's this year -- as we did last year! We did!
posted by ericb at 12:40 PM on January 1, 2009


Hey, nickyskye, your link to the google books thingy just tells me I've reached my limit of page reads, which is odd because I never use it. Any chance you could add in thread a summary of what you linked to?
posted by maxwelton at 12:54 PM on January 1, 2009



A year before I was born, one of them -for a couple of months only - was my biological mother (from whom I've been estranged since 1984).
posted by nickyskye at 3:03 PM

Wow-- that's fascinating. What a small world.

Apparently Maynard has reported that Salinger wooed a number of teenaged girls by post-- and the article mentions that he met his first wife (who was 19 to his 34) when he was routinely escorting high school girls to the prom and other events, as a man in his 30s.
posted by availablelight at 1:06 PM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Franny and Zooey - the ending, especially - hit me really hard the first time I read it. I felt like I got something about life that I hadn't gotten before. Actually, books make me feel like that all the time. But this time, it stuck.

There's also this page, for all of his stories that haven't been published as books. I think I saw this on Metafilter originally.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:09 PM on January 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Has anyone read Hapworth? I found the narrator's voice (a 7 year old Seymour Glass) so irritating and unbelievable, I could barely get through it. Just very disappointing.

Nevertheless, I do hope we get a chance to read what Salinger has been writing all these years, if indeed, he has written anything.
posted by troubles at 3:14 PM on January 1, 2009


Rudford’s father originally had been a Bostonian, a salesman for a Boston typewriter company. On a business trip to Agersburg, just before the first World War, he had met—and within two weeks married—a well-heeled local girl. He never returned either to the home office or to Boston, apparently X-ing both out of his life without a jot of regret. He was quite a number altogether. Less than an hour after his wife died giving birth to Rudford, he got on a trolley going to the outskirts of Agersburg and bought out a rocky, but reputable, publishing house. Six months later he published a book he had written himself, entitled, “Civics for Americans.” It was followed, over a period of a few years, by a highly successful series of highly unreadable textbooks known—only too widely, even today—as the Intelligence Series for Progressive High School Students of America. I certainly know for a fact that his “Science for Americans” paid the public high schools of Philadelphia a visit around 1932. The book was rich with baffling little diagrams of simple little fulcrums.

No great mystery here; Salinger writes stories that are fun to read. That's why we'd like to have more of them.
posted by squalor at 6:10 PM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I never loved Catcher in the Rye, but Franny and Zooey has always been an important book to me. Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters, didn't touch me in the same way, but to this day it remains one of my favorite short stories ever. It also has my favorite fictional character name of all time: Dickie Briganza.
posted by localhuman at 8:16 PM on January 1, 2009


Hollywood will get Catcher eventually. Like Asimov, they'll wait til the author's dead. And Will Smith will be involved.
posted by Eideteker at 9:55 PM on January 1, 2009


"a book about a jerky private school kid in the 50s"

Wow, it's like he was the Wes Anderson of his day. What a crock of shit the Royal Tennenbaums was, and now I can place why. It wanted to be like Catcher in the Rye, but in all the wrong ways.
posted by Eideteker at 9:59 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


My high-school English teacher dealt with this by having an open-ended, practically semester long conversation about child abuse, alcohol abuse, and smoking with us.

I'd have been pissed off if my English class (or almost any of my other classes, whether in math or biology or shop or programming or history or....) had spent much time on that instead.
posted by pracowity at 11:34 PM on January 1, 2009


Even now, I still quote Zooey saying "Everybody's Seymour's fat lady." It's a great philosophy, even if it has a silly background.

TCitR is awful, imo, but I really like the rest of his work, especially Seymour: An Introduction and Franny and Zooey.

Salinger has lots of memorable lines and quirky ways of writing, and I would say that he had the greatest impact on me in HS of any author I was reading then.
posted by aliceinreality at 11:43 PM on January 1, 2009


Upthread when I mentioned the "painful" aspect of teaching CitR (rampant alcohol use) I guess I should just add that I'm not opposed to bringing the issue up with students, it's just that there's this knee-jerk association of people who haven't read the novel for a while to think it's some sort of picaresque comedy about a non-conformist kid who happily-go-luckily figures out that adults and adulthood are teh suck.

Some of these very same parents wanted to get in touch with me after I had to spend a whole period on the subject of whether or not Holden was an alcoholic (IMO, he is).

So I guess I want to defend the novel itself as being good (not great, IMO), but also being highly misunderstood as a "children's classic."

Anecdotally, my brother-in-law read it a few years ago for the first time (in his late 30's). He couldn't believe it was a mandatory text for 14 year-olds in my program.

But reception histories are always intersting. I'm sure this picaresque coming-of-age bullshit is exactly what Hollywood would do with CitR.

And props to adiopocere for mentioning Mr. Antolini. He's the key character in the book IMO, beyond Holden.
posted by bardic at 12:11 AM on January 2, 2009


I know he's in some sort of medical institution, but after all, he says he caught pneumonia.

Holden is pretty much the epitome of an unreliable narrator.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:29 AM on January 2, 2009


The book is not for adults. [...] If we no longer can connect with it when we're grown, that may be sad, but it's incidental to the purpose of the book.

I didn't connect with it when I first read it as a teen and a second, later try wasn't fruitful either. Different strokes, I guess.
posted by ersatz at 8:51 AM on January 2, 2009


Truman Capote lied a lot.

Just sayin'.


This was implied in the link.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:39 AM on January 4, 2009


Okay, uh....see, when I read Catcher in the Rye, in high school, I assumed that the POINT of the BOOK was that Holden was as much of a phony asshole as everyone else- in fact, he was more so. I assumed that this was everyone's interpretation, and then was shocked, for YEARS, that every time the book came up people would talk about how Holden was such an inspirational figure. Did anyone else get my interpretation?
posted by 235w103 at 7:28 PM on January 4, 2009


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