04 Jan 2019

J.D. Salinger Would Have Been 100 Tuesday


Fred Lapides ripped off the commemorative screed from behind WaPo’s paywall for you and me.

[New Years Day was] J.D. Salinger’s 100th birthday, but Holden Caulfield is still 17. The iconic teenager of “The Catcher in the Rye” is forever suspended in the amber of our youthful alienation.

Although a few pious schools continue to ban Salinger’s only published novel, for millions of adults, a faded copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” is a sweet teenage treasure, as transgressive as a trophy from band camp. Ninth-graders who secretly read the book with a flashlight when it came out in 1951 are now in their 80s.

To read it again as an adult is to feel Holden’s pain lingering like a phantom limb. His righteous cynicism is adolescence distilled into a sweet liquor. But the novel also feels like revisiting your first house. The familiarity is enchanting but discombobulating. The story is smaller than you remember, and some details you had completely wrong. But what’s most striking is how common the novel’s tone has become over the intervening decades. Holden is Patient Zero for generations infected by his misanthropy. We live in a world overpopulated by privileged white guys who mistake their depression for existential wisdom, their narcissism for superior vision.

We have met the phonies and they are us. …

it’s not clear how Salinger’s reputation will evolve in the new century. As usual, time helps, e.g. we can ignore Ernest Hemingway’s behavior; we can’t ignore Sherman Alexie’s. The biographies have tended to leave two impressions: Salinger’s fiction is even more autobiographical than we thought, and Salinger himself was even loonier than we suspected. Homeopathy! Acupuncture! Dianetics! In 2013, David Shields and Shane Salerno suggested that Salinger’s undescended testicle could help explain his entire life. “Surely,” they wrote, “one of the many reasons he stayed out of the media glare was to reduce the likelihood that this information about his anatomy would emerge.” (Someone asked on Twitter, “Why didn’t he just wear pants?”)


2 Feedbacks on "J.D. Salinger Would Have Been 100 Tuesday"

Jeff Z

I don’t know about the testicle matter, but when I read about Salinger’s war record, “Catcher in the Rye” took on a different significance for me. https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2011/02/salinger-201102


I’ve always felt “Catcher in the Rye” was over rated. I’ve also always felt Salinger was over rated.
This reinforces my opinions- and makes me realize I’m not harsh enough.

Salinger wrote 1 book- the glitterati decided it was awesome, and it’s been force fed to students over the last 50 years as a magical novel. Salinger allegedly never wrote again, ran away and became a man of mystery…

Mark Twain he is not.


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