Some Salinger For Your Wednesday Night

I love J.D. Salinger. Not only do I think his writing is genius, but I'm also completely fascinated by his life. Watching the 2013 documentary Salinger a few weeks ago, I was intrigued to get a glimpse into his private life from the accounts of those closest to the man. One quality that struck me was his consistent confidence throughout life. A classic case of the boy genius who questions authority, Salinger was quickly thrown out of prep school for disrespecting his teachers. Convinced that he would soon see his work in The New Yorker, I suppose he believed he could learn little from them.
Contrast this with a particular interaction with a fan nearly forty years later. Seeking out the great writer as so many readers did upon completing The Catcher In The Rye, the man hoped Salinger could give him thoughtful advice for his own life. After all, he had felt such a connection to Holden, so who better to counsel him than the character's creator? Alas, after finally tracking down Salinger at his secluded home months later, the fan was swiftly disillusioned. Salinger proclaimed that Catcher was mere fiction and that he couldn't offer any real insight into the complexities of life.
Isn't it interesting that Salinger was always so assured of his talent, yet deemphasized the profoundness of his ideas? What was a focus of the film (and still perplexes me) were his odd interactions with the general public during his life. While some are quick to write Salinger off as a recluse, his exchanges proved to be far too intentional to situate him nicely into this definition. For one, after years without a single interview, Salinger called up a reporter from the New York Times and said something to the extent of "This is a man called Salinger. I can only speak for a few minutes and you'll want to write this down." He then dictated for over an hour exactly what he wanted printed.
Yet despite several pointed forays back into the public scene, after The Catcher In The Rye became a hit and Franny and Zooey was published, Salinger didn't produce the masterpieces devoted fans expected. There is a book of nine short stories out there that I just purchased last weekend. If you haven't, you must read A Perfect Day for Bananafish, available online hereGood news, however, if you've already read it all, for in the next couple of years many more unpublished works of his will be released to the public. If you're anything like me, or that hopeful fan, you'll be quite excited.
(And if you're still unconvinced of just how deliberate and meticulous the man was, here's one last anecdote: Ever the proud artist, Salinger presented his publishing company with a finished manuscript, instructing them to either take it exactly as it was or leave it unpublished. The editor perused the story and added one comma to a passage and, thinking its significance minute enough not to mention, returned the final copy to its author. Salinger was furious. Yes, he noticed the comma.)
For now, though, enjoy watching Salinger. How can you not be enthralled by someone who lived with such intention?

Don't Ask Me How I Know It, 


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