J.D. Salinger (1919-2010)

Posted by · 12:39 pm · January 28th, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerHow eerily sad that exactly one year ago, I wrote a short piece mourning the passing of John Updike, one of my literary heroes and chief inspirations to become a writer. Today, the news has arrived that J.D. Salinger, the man joining Updike at the top of my personal pantheon, has followed him to the smoky writer’s study in the sky.

January 27 is clearly not a lucky day for American literature.

I first read “The Catcher in the Rye” when I was 10 years old. As banal as it is to say, and as innumerable as the people are who have said the same thing before me, it’s a book that changed my life. I suspect Holden Caulfield has served as a guide for many a curious child into the daring delights of “grown-up books,” but it wasn’t just the character or the story that held me in thrall — it was the flip, jazzy elegance of the writing itself.

As a kid whose twin passions were reading and watching movies, Salinger taught me that a book could read like a movie, that prose could bend and bounce like verbal dialogue.

That Salinger forbade Hollywood from ever getting its paws on “The Catcher in the Rye,” perhaps one of the most cinematic American novels ever written, is both a supreme irony and a blessing: no actor or screenwriter could meet or exceed the myriad definitions of cool that Holden Caulfield wrote in millions of readers’ heads. Holden himself had some fairly strong opinions about the crimes wrought by filmmakers upon defenceless works of literature — and we can only hope future generations respect his, and his creator’s, wishes, once copyright subsides.

That said, my resistance to the idea of a Salinger adaptation is hypocritical. As a 16 year-old, I entered my high school’s annual festival of one-act plays with a 30-minute stage version of Salinger’s short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” I’d penned the adaptation myself, and was pretty damn proud of it — it was the first script of any shape or form that I’d written. The play was a strange beast for a school drama competition, performed in a happy mixture of South African and American accents, with a complex system of sliding screens to separate indoor and outdoor locales. Looking back on it a decade later, I’m not sure what got into me.

But the audience liked it, the judges liked it, and we won the competition — at least in part encouraging me to continue with this scriptwriting lark. Whether Salinger would have liked it is another matter. Still, I hope he can forgive me my audacity and see what I got from his work.

Rest in peace, sir.

→ 14 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

14 responses so far

  • 1 1-28-2010 at 1:22 pm

    Jim said...

    That killed me.

  • 2 1-28-2010 at 1:41 pm

    Jake D said...

    That was the phoniest thing I ever read.

  • 3 1-28-2010 at 1:48 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Well, thanks. Sometimes my life is pretty phony.

  • 4 1-28-2010 at 2:38 pm

    Patryk said...

    Not in the least bit phony. Moving and elegant, as usual.

  • 5 1-28-2010 at 3:13 pm

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    I’m sure Jake D is joking, as Holden Caulfield’s insult of choice is always that something is “phony”.

  • 6 1-28-2010 at 3:18 pm

    Nigel Bridgeman said...

    I quite liked this:


  • 7 1-28-2010 at 3:28 pm

    Andrew L. said...

    Hated the book (still do), but hate more of what the book has become: a bible for emo martyrdom.

    With that said, I can see the influence Salinger had on literature.

  • 8 1-28-2010 at 3:34 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Oh, I got the reference, Nicolas. But I like to think that Jake was being sincerely critical. Holden would approve ;)

  • 9 1-28-2010 at 5:15 pm

    Adrianna said...

    I read it when I was 12. I liked that Holden seemed to be a good brother to his sister. No-one I knew had heard of the book or read it, so I was able to read it in mental peace. I like it when you can just have your own reactions to a book. I found it interesting and satisfying, a small pleasure.

  • 10 1-28-2010 at 5:57 pm

    Holden said...

    I remember first hearing of The Catcher in the Rye when I was 6, and I finally read it when I was 11. I’ve read a few times since, and each time I read it, it has an even deeper resonance. It especially means something to me since our favorite antihero is my namesake. It’s just a sad thing to see the author of an iconic work bite the dust. Maybe it’s best that Hollywood leave the Holden Caulfield adventures alone. RIP, JD.

  • 11 1-28-2010 at 8:13 pm

    Danny King said...

    I actually read this book in English class last year, and I must say, it’s the best book I’ve read throughout my high school years. A brilliant character study. I can’t say I’m an expert on novels or anything like that, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

  • 12 1-28-2010 at 8:48 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    “a bible for emo martyrdom.”

    But what makes it great is than when those emo teenagers finally grow up, the book becomes more meaningful when they realize Holden Caufield – though basically a good kid – was also a self-obsessed whiner.

  • 13 1-28-2010 at 10:26 pm

    Derek 8-Track said...

    My sympathies go out to Zelda Rubinstein today.

    This blog is clean.

  • 14 1-29-2010 at 5:28 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    Salinger would probably have had vicious words for most of the Oscar bloggers, and probably the Academy in general, if he had ever dared to stoop to caring about something so trivial. But not you, Guy. You’re alone in your authenticity among the phonies.