Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Death of J.D. Salinger

I was in fifth grade when I first met J.D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye was on the summer reading list for the high school in my city and copies of his book sat out in the teen section. I remember hearing the title before and anything in the teen area was a book I wanted to conquer. I checked it out, probably tucking it into a plastic grocery bag and riding my bike home to read it. I’m sure a lot of it didn’t make sense, and I’m not really sure if I even got through the entire book. But we had met, if only for a brief moment.

Salinger and I then led separate lives until my senior year in high school. It was one of the books I read instead of reading the assigned books I was supposed to be reading for my English class (confesses the high school English teacher!). I remember the way Holden’s voice spoke to me, his cynicism and open defiance towards society around him resonated to me. I felt like Holden knew what I was thinking, like when Salinger had wrote the book he had looked into my head and took my thoughts and feelings out for everyone to see. The angst filled, confused, teenage version of myself fell in love with the lost and lonely Holden and Salinger’s words.

I’ve revisted Catcher in the Rye throughout the years (in addition to some of Salinger’s other pieces of writing) and have always found something new in the book. I talked my main squeeze into reading it a few months ago and he couldn’t put it down. He would read lines and even paragraphs out of the book to me. My main squeeze agreed that Salinger knew exactly what it felt like to be a teenager. He spoke to that generation, he spoke to our generation and now he’s speaking to my students. His writing has a universality that everyone can relate to, and it always makes me happy when one of my students reads it and comes back to talk to me about how much they loved the book (because they usually do).

I know his death may get people excited about the possibility of more writing by him (he wrote for in his house for decades, never sharing this writing) and while it’s exciting to think that we may someday be able to read fresh new words, it’s more important to first remember that we just lost of one of our generation’s greatest writer’s (even if Salinger wouldn’t want the attention given to himself). As a young adult writer, I couldn’t imagine writing in any other type of voice and there is no doubt that J.D. Salinger helped to inspire my choice to write YA literature.

"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be."
~J.D. Salinger


Suzette Saxton said...

I just heard about Salinger dying, but have never read about his thoughts on his title. Thank you for sharing that interesting tidbit. I am sure I'll think of it every time I think of Salinger.

Andrea said...

It amazes me that I have a space on my bookcase with all but one of the books in the top picture.