Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D. Salinger, 1919-2010

As I'm sure most of you know by now, Jerome David (J.D.) Salinger died of old age on January 27th at 91 years old. This notoriously reclusive author, who had not done an interview since 1974 and had not made a public appearance nor published anything since 1965, is most famous for his novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger was not particularly prolific, having only published a number of short stories, most of which appeared in The New Yorker. However, Salinger's infamous novel gave him far more fame than he desired and is still required reading for most American students.

The Catcher in the Rye was one of the first books I was ever assigned to read that I actually enjoyed. I read it when I was 14 or so and, like many, I identified with the angsty, unhappy Holden Caulfield. Within the biographical info I found on Salinger, one website called Catcher "an authoritative depiction of teenage angst." Caulfield thinks most people are "phonies" and has disdain for the majority he encounters. A New Yorker article pinpoints Holden's attitudes as Weltschmerz, meaning "the unhappiness of eternal disappointment in life as it is", or, as quite nicely put in this Wikipedia article, "the kind of feeling experienced by someone who understands that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind." It is interesting to me that we still get kids to read this book considering Caulfield's seemingly dismal outlook, but perhaps that's the point. While I wouldn't necessarily use the words "eternal disappointment" to describe my life attitude at age 14, I was certainly jaded and becoming fairly distrustful of the authority figures around me - not unlike many at this age. Maybe as adults we know teens should read this so they feel less alone in their angst-ridden adolescence? Perhaps it is just the literary merits of the book and/or Holden's precociousness that make it required reading? What do you think?

The library can provide you with everything you need to come to your own conclusions, or simply to learn a little bit more about this legendary author:

At Home in the World: A Memoir

The Catcher in the Rye

Dream Catcher: A Memoir

Franny and Zooey

In Search of J.D. Salinger

Letters to J.D. Salinger

Nine Stories

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters; and, Seymour: An Introduction

Salinger, A Biography

With Love and Squalor: 14 Writers Respond to the Work of J.D. Salinger

Biography Resource Center
The Resource Center is an excellent, authoritative source of biographical information that often include extensive bibliographies. You will need your APL card, if you'd like to access it from home.

Bunch of Phonies Mourn J.D. Salinger
From The Onion. A good sense of humor is key to enjoying this particular article.

Catching Salinger
"A search for the elusive writer." A few guys go on a road trip in search of Salinger. They video documented the journey on this blog.

Dead Caulfields
"A site dedicated to the life and work of J.D. Salinger"

Holden at Fifty: 'The Catcher in the Rye' and What it Spawned

J.D. Salinger Biography (with great bibliography!)

J.D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91

Salinger Biography, Jewish Virtual Library

Wes Anderson on J.D. Salinger


Christi said...

Holden Caulfield exists today in every disconnected, discontented, iphone addicted hipster out there. We all remember that angst (some never leave it behind); that is why it stays on reading lists. Besides, it is cool to have a tattered copy on your shelf serving as a reminder.

Trevor said...

JD Salinger and Howard Zinn are both gone! Funny how one was so reclusive and the other so outspoken, yet they've both made their marks.