For JD Salinger, with Love and Squalor.

30 Jan

I gave up trying to think of an original title to this post because Salinger’s books have been quoted so heavily in the media the last few days.

I knew falling in love with Salinger as a teenager was a  cliche but I never realized the sheer number of people until they all came out of the woodwork this week professing their affection for the deceased author.  

I’m sure this is a lesson Holden Caulfield, Salinger’s most famous character from The Catcher in the Rye, learned eventually.  That his teenage pain wasn’t that unusual.  He was probably surprised to grow out of it, like I was.  I don’t think of people I meet as “phonies” anymore, though in high school I certainly did.  I still reread Catcher occasionally, but more for the feeling of nostalgia than relatability.

I became more interested in Salinger’s short stories as time went on and even spent a day this summer at Harvard reading Hapworth and his other unpublished short stories.  I spent hours poring over theories on the Internet about whether Teddy really was a child genius or just a depressed, attention-seeking serial liar.  I wished I was Esme, the precocious French girl from For Esme, with Love and Squalor whenever I was desperate to keep my f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact.  I met a boy from the East Coast and spoke of my wish to run into Mr. Salinger in Cornish, NH and have a terrific conversation.  

JD Salinger had more of an impact on my adolescence than anyone besides my parents did.  I was comforted someone seemed to understand me.  Even Salinger’s daughter’s unflattering portrait of him in Dream Catcher* did not shake my belief in the man who I discovered like religion when I most needed it, drinking his words in and becoming desperate to absorb his lessons.

Salinger’s daughter Margaret and his onetime girlfriend Joyce Maynard have intimated Salinger continued to write daily and has works on the Glass Family and even entire novels unpublished. I know his family will honor his memory if these writings are exposed to the public.

I literally gasped when I read Salinger had passed and have a lump in my throat while writing this post.  I can’t describe how much Salinger’s work touched my life and I am eternally grateful for his unique voice and spirit.

For those of you unfamiliar with Salinger’s work, I recommend starting with Nine Stories.  Too many adults are turned off by the whining nature of The Catcher in the Rye – it’s best if read before the age of fifteen.  From there, I recommend Franny and Zooey.  By then, you will be enamored with the Glass Family so Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenter and Seymour: An Introduction will satisfy.

Walking tour of Holden Caulfield’s New York City

*In my opinion, Dream Catcher required the work of a good editor.  Sadly, I agree with the book’s reviews – it seemed to be an attempt to make money off her father’s name.  But true Salinger fans will salivate over pictures of the reclusive author and little-known stories.

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