(Ben also loves Salinger dearly, so I’ll let him write his own obituary when he stops crying.)
Today I arrived at work to the news that J.D. Salinger had died aged 91, and also to the much more eagerly anticipated news that my very good friends Andy and Róisín have had a baby boy. Coincidence? I think it probably is…
Before I had read The Catcher in the Rye I was aware that naming this novel as your favourite was a bit of a cliché. I think the official statistic is that 1 in 3 people name The Catcher in the Rye as their favourite novel*. Being a facetiously contrary teenager who despised the thought of being a cliche I set out to dislike the book, or at least read it with indifference. I failed. I loved it intensely, as almost everyone does. Luckily though, I was stubborn enough not to give in and name The Catcher in the Rye as my favourite book of all time, but to read on through Salinger’s back catalogue and see if I could choose a more obscure title to rave about in the style of: “Yeah yeah, I liked Catcher in the Rye, but Franny and Zooey would have to be my favourite of his. What’s that? Oh, you say you haven’t read Franny and Zooey? Oh you must! and his short stories, they’re really something etc etc”.
So to anyone who stopped at The Catcher in the Rye, or who is a stranger to Salinger, my top recommendations would have to be: For Esmé, with Love and Squalor (also published as Nine Stories), and Franny and Zooey. (To be honest though, I haven’t read any others… I’ll let you know when I do though.)
The mysteries surrounding Salinger’s life are many, varied and uninteresting to me. He was a famously private person which I really respect. If he didn’t want people to know much about him, then I’m not going to go out of my way to delve into his life story. As a human I think you’re allowed to be whatever you like. Obviously I’m not suggesting you be a murderer or a rapist or anything, (though if you want to slash the tyres on 4x4s, you’re welcome) but you’re definitely allowed to be as eccentric, weird, batty, private, or pernickity as you like. Especially if you are producing some of the most wonderful, valuable art the world has experienced. Salinger may have been a right ol’ bat bag, but he was a brilliant, brilliant writer, and I didn’t have to live with him so I’m not really fussed.
Famously he has barred anyone from ever making films of his books, and he supposedly has dozens of unpublished novels lying about at home. He apparently couldn’t bear the attention that went along with putting them out. Fair enough. I wonder what will happen with them now? No-one even knows what they’re about. Does Holden Caulfield’s story continue? and what about the rich tapestry of the lives of the Glass family? I’m dying to find out! It’s unusual that an author’s death is what may signal the arrival of a bunch of new publications. It almost makes it hard to mourn him properly, although at 91, he had had a pretty good innings. Rest in peace Jerome David Salinger.
The last pages of Zooey have stayed with me more than any part of any work of literature. For anyone with a dissatisfaction with life, with others, and for anyone with a little bit of turmoil in their soul over the awful side of humanity, this book brings a bittersweet duvet of comfort with it.
I was going to paste the last few paragraphs of Zooey here. But instead I’m going to insist that you read it (if you haven’t already) I’ll even lend you my copy. I’ll leave you with this though:
“I see you are looking at my feet,” he said to her when car was in motion.
“I beg your pardon?” said the woman.
“I said I see you’re looking at my feet”.
“I beg your pardon. I happened to be looking at the floor,” said the woman, and faced the doors of the car.
“If you want to look at my feet, say so,” said the young man. “But don’t be a God-damned sneak about it.”
“Let me out here, please,” the woman said quickly to the girl operating the car.
The car doors opened and the woman got out without looking back.
“I have two normal feet and I can’t see the slightest God-damned reason why anybody should stare at them,” said the young man.
from ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’, Nine Stories.
And to my newly born honourary nephew (who doesn’t have a name yet) welcome to the world! I hope we don’t completely trash it before you have the chance to grow up.
*Completely unsupported statistic
p.s. My current favourite book, in case you’re at all interested, is Cold Comfort Farm. Although Nine Stories is definitely my favourite short story collection.