In a way, it’s like he’s been dead for a long time. Isn’t that what a recluse wants? For the world to act as if he’s dead? But he wasn’t dead until now. And I already miss his crazy ass.
Like nearly every American teenager, I first became familiar with J.D. Salinger when I read “Catcher in the Rye” in 9th grade English class. And like many American teenagers, it absolutely spoke to me. It was even more profound considering that most of the other kids in my class were completely unaffected. Some were bored by the book. Some just thought Holden was a jerk. Some probably didn’t actually read it at all. I was in private school and many of the characters in the book that Holden called “phonies” reminded me of the people I begrudgingly spent every day with. I wrote two papers about the book. One was a typical literary analysis and one was a “diary entry” written in Holden’s voice. The latter came to me very easily. I got an A+ on both papers. I felt that I had never completely understood a book better than I understood that one. And with that, “Catcher in the Rye” became my favorite book.
What really knocks me out is a book, when you’re all done reading it, you wished the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.
Later, I voluntarily took an AP English class over the summer which was all about Salinger. We read every book that he’d published that summer. I had never had so much fun in school. “Nine Stories” blew me away even more profoundly than “Catcher”. I was so moved by “For Esme with Love and Squalor”. I don’t think a book had ever made me cry before. We also learned a bit about J.D. Salinger, the man. He was crazy. He was a recluse. His family hated him. He’d been accused of inappropriate relationships with young girls. It was fairly obvious that everything he wrote was at least semi-autobiographical. This did not bode well for his mental state. But I fully understood how one could let the world get to him. And that’s what had happened. He was better off in hiding.
I re-read “Catcher in the Rye” and “Nine Stories” yearly. In college, I once spent an entire Saturday in the downtown Tacoma library (remember libraries, kids?) seeking out his uncollected works: short stories which had been published in literary journals and magazines and then forgotten. I exhaustively searched through the microfiche and spent dime after dime photocopying everything I could. I didn’t find everything, but what I did manage to collect felt like a treasure. I later devoured those stories and thought this was an author who was incapable of writing a bad sentence.
He does have that vault full of unpublished works. He has said that what’s in there is vaulted for a reason. He thinks it’s terrible and he never wants the world to see it. I don’t know who is in charge of his estate or what will become of those stories now. Part of me wants to read them, of course. But considering the quality of what he allowed to be published, I also trust his judgment. And I never want to read a Salinger story that I don’t love.
Speaking of which, it’s been a while since I re-read “Nine Stories”.