J.D. Salinger died today at 91. There's been much internet hub-bub about him – mostly devoted to his iconic novel The Catcher in the Rye and/or the eccentric last half of his life as a near-total recluse. The latter fact is of particular interest to those of us who closely follow either movies or law (and of superlative interest to the occasional aberration like me who follows both).
Salinger stopped publishing in 1965, but according to a neighbor, his children, and a few ex-lovers (all of whom he must totally HATE), he's written prolifically since then. Salinger was adamant about never publishing again, and unfortunately, he was one of the few celebrities who actually retired when he said he would and didn't stage a series of lukewarm comebacks (I'm looking at you, Favre). He refused to license the rights to Catcher or any of his other published stories for films; he also prevailed in a number of lawsuits enjoining the publication of biographies, personal letters, uncollected works, and most recently, a purported "sequel" to Catcher by other authors.
So, something of a countdown to J.D.'s death had begun in creative circles, making him a bizarre literary hero whose fans want him to die so they can finally read more. A safe full of juicy Salinger stories – and the legal rights to the super-famous published ones – are rumored to be hiding in his New Hampshire cabin. And today, for the first time ever, they might be open to the public.
I, personally, have said many times that J.D. Salinger is my favorite author; I've also been known to lecture people on the Glass family after too many glasses of my own. But I've never been a lover of Catcher. Sure, when I was fourteen, it spoke to me in the way that it does to all bored, skeptical, self-important teenagers. But I tried re-reading it last summer, and like the sleigh bell from the Polar Express, I suddenly couldn't hear it. Catcher seemed whiny and juvenile and less satisfying than it was before (of course, being whiny and juvenile is probably what made it satisfying when I was fourteen).
But I am a longtime devotee of the Glass family. Salinger's publications Franny and Zooey, Seymour: an Introduction, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Nine Stories are some of the most important books in my life. I truly stumbled on them all, so I won't make a pretense of some insightful literary discovery (Salinger, after all, would hate that). Franny and Zooey was the great love of an old boyfriend of mine; I merely (but sincerely) adopted it from him. And when I went to college, I decided I wanted to be able to say important things like "I've read all the books [so and so] ever published". When I found out Salinger only published five books and they were all pretty short, I figured he was my man. But I fell in love with them in my own right, accidentally and unexpectedly, as we always do. And these books, those characters, have resonated with me for many years.
For a long time I exhaustively looked for more Salinger (so maybe I do understand the death-wishes that come from his biggest fans). A few years ago, I found a website that hosts a bunch of uncollected Salinger short stories, the kind once printed in ladies magazines and literary journals. But don't feel like you have to read them – the movie versions are probably already underway. Let's just hope the Catcher movie is a better adaptation than Benjamin Button.
Do it for the fat lady, J.D.