Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Who wants flowers when you're dead?"

J.D. Salinger died today. He was 91 years old. He wrote stories. He was notorious for being a hermit, hiding away from the world after he almost single-handedly revamped the written word. Some credit him with the invention of the young adult genre. Some call him a menace. Some blame his magnum opus, The Catcher in the Rye, for the degradation of society. Most don't even know who he is.

In the movie Finding Forrester, Sean Connery's character is loosely based on Salinger.

Actress Zooey Deschanel is named after Franny & Zooey, one of Salinger's collections of short stories.

It took me until college before I finally read The Catcher in the Rye. One day I was walking to the store, passed a yard sale, and picked it up for the low, low price of fifty cents. I read it on a plane, an overnight flight, and it was stunning. It floored me in every way. I couldn't believe it had taken me so long to embrace this work of fiction.

After my first time reading it, I wrote this about it:

A great tale of crisis, the insanity that plagues us all, and how cynicism effects the world, as seen through an adolescents eyes. Holden is mesmerizing. I love how you can identify with him so easily, but some of his musings can be unnerving, leaving you to wonder about your own sanity in this mad world.

My opinion is pretty much the same. I do love Holden. He completely captured me when I was reading. Yes, sometimes his thoughts seemed to contradict each other, but how often does that happen in real life? Aren't we all tormented to some degree, driven mad with trying to figure out what this world, this life, this entire existence is about? All of us are merely passing through, observing humanity and trying to cling to some basic truths. And sometimes it's hard. And sometimes you don't understand. And sometimes you think you have everything figured out, only to have that change moments later.

See the whole sanity issue? I'm guessing you do.

At work I was in mourning, and told my co-workers about Salinger's death. They asked who that was. I told them it was the guy who wrote The Catcher in the Rye. They had never read it, and had no idea what it was about. When I gave a brief plot summary, one girl raised her eyebrows. "So, you enjoy reading a book that's just the inner ramblings of a teenage boy?"

Yes. Yes I do. Most books about teenagers at this time were horrible, one-note, craptastic moralistic serials about boys and cars, or a girl detective, or about how Timmy played football and loved it and won the big game. Salinger gave his characters emotions. He let them be confused. He said it was OK to think about deeper issues, to come up with theories and figure out who you really were and what you believed in.

"Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them - if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry."

Thank you, J.D. Salinger. Thank you for contributing to the records. Thank you for your creations. Thank you for your poetry.

1 comment:

David's Holla Atchya! Blog said...

Admittedly, I have not read The Catcher in the Rye, and celebrity or pseudo-celebrity deaths generally don't phase me. But, I like what you did with this. You used his passing as a reflection time and as a way to enlighten people of his interesting writing. Great work.