Friday, February 5, 2010

A Tribute to J.D. Salinger

By Chip Schrader
Book Review Editor
If only there was one more book. So cries the eternal adolescent inside who grasped at every word Holden Caulfield said by the pen of Jerome David Salinger, better known simply as J.D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye came out in 1951, the angry and shunned main character rode a train home after flunking out of another boarding school. All the while, his younger sister, Phoebe, was the only thing that remained pure in his young and jaded life. Pure to the point he tried to wipe away the “F” word from a wall so someone like his sister would never walk along and see it.
It was that word that set American culture on fire. Profane and subversive to many, perhaps; indeed the taboo of profanity and vulgarity had been set free, but subversion hardly seems to fit. Salinger used that word once, and in a context that ironically was a memoriam to American innocence, and now that word is etched so deeply into pop culture that it cannot be burned, blurred, or bleeped away. Now not every time can this word be masked, and no more in American Literature.
This novel was so much more than that, though. In eleventh grade English, it was the first thing that was true. In my anxious and angry adolescence, Salinger’s gentle voice reached me through those pages and said to me: “It’s okay. There are many other lost souls out there to walk beside you.” Caulfield’s anger gave me a sense of righteousness. Five years later, and I read it as a completely different novel that made me laugh at the sarcasm, wit, and indifference to society.
That is what a great novel is. The reader holds more of its meaning than the words themselves.
If only there was one more book. “Catcher in the Rye,” “Franny and Zooey,” “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction” and “Nine Stories” are everything this man had to share before retiring from public view for over five decades. “Nine Stories,” to Salinger fans, is also essential reading containing the stories “A Perfect Day for a Bananafish” and “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut,” where nuanced details like a careless mother resting her child’s glasses face down stir the reader with its beautiful particularity.
Salinger’s disappearance fueled rumors about odd ritualistic habits, pseudonyms (Thomas Pynchon the most famous rumor) and behavior, some of them confirmed by his daughter Margaret’s memoir “Dream Catcher.” Books like “Children’s Letters to J.D. Salinger” attempted to fill that void, and that vast market that yearned for his words. Nothing ever really did fill that void Salinger left. The person at this laptop writing you these words owes his college major, his career, and his dreams as a writer to Mr. Salinger.
If only there was one more book…but there isn’t. These four works are what he had for us, and at the very least and very most, we have that.